The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a new version of the organization’s Privacy Badger extension that is designed to improve user privacy while using desktop browsers it supports.
The new version introduces support for eliminating some tracking that Google does on some of its properties when links are activated by users.
The EFF launched a Privacy Badger update in May 2018 that took care of link tracking on Facebook, and this new update does the same for Google’s link tracking mechanisms.
The organization notes that the initial release works on Google Search, Google Hangouts, and Google Docs sites only at the time. While that covers three popular Google services on the Internet, it does not cover others such as Gmail or Google Plus.
Google uses several methods when it comes to link tracking on its properties. These methods differ not only from product to product but depend also on the browser that is used to access the content.
Chrome users who use Google Search may notice after analyzing the source carefully that Google uses the “ping” attribute to receive information about link clicks on Google Search.
The ping informs Google about the link that the user clicked on in Google Search and includes extra information besides that.
In Firefox, Google uses a mousedown event instead and not ping to track links. Basically, what Google does is replace the URL that it displays to users when they hover over a link in Firefox with a Google link that redirects users to the destination. Since users are directed through a Google link to the destination the company knows about the link that users clicked on.
On Hangouts and Google Docs, Google uses a similar method to send users to the linked destination through a Google link so that it can track user clicks and the context of the clicks.
Google obfuscates the fact that it tracks links in several ways, e.g. by displaying the “real” destination of a link to the user on mouse over but redirecting users through a Google link to the destination.
The new Privacy Badger takes care of link tracking on these three Google properties automatically.
Privacy Badger is updated regularly with new tracking protections. While that is great, one has to realize that it will never protect against online tracking completely. If you are particularly worried about being tracked by giant Internet companies, try alternatives such as Startpage or DuckDuckGo instead of Google Search.
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