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EFF’s Privacy Badger automatically blocks web trackers

12 August 2014, Mike Williams

There are plenty of browser extensions around which try to block web trackers, but most have at least some issues: they’re complicated to set up, need custom configuration, use bulky blacklists, maybe there are some questions over the developer’s business model.

Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to change all that with Privacy Badger, a trustworthy Firefox and Chrome extension which blocks tracking ads and cookies entirely automatically, no manual intervention required.

The AdBlock Plus-based tool doesn’t use blacklists, and instead analyses web content in real time. It monitors the many sources which make up a typical web page, detects servers which seem to be tracking you across multiple sites, and blocks your requests from being sent to those domains.

An icon warns of issues on the current site

To reduce the chance of breaking a website, Privacy Badger allows content which it believes will be important – embedded maps, fonts, some images – but still blocks the tracking cookies of offending domains.

The extension also makes use of Do Not Track, too, which should at least help with sites which honour DNT requests.

Privacy Badger adds an icon to the address bar, giving immediate feedback on the current site. A green indicator means it’s tracker free; yellow indicates there’s a tracker, but it’s necessary for the page, so only its cookies are blocked; red means a tracker had been blocked in full.

If you’re unhappy with any of this – maybe a site just doesn’t work any more, despite the add-on’s best efforts – click the icon, and you’ll find buttons to disable any analysis of this site, or deactivate the add-on entirely.

This all worked very well in our first tests. Privacy Badger (Firefox,  Chrome) proved intelligent and easy-to-use, offering reasonable protection without having any real effect on legitimate sites. The extension is still in beta and we’re not yet sure how effective its algorithm is going to be, but this is a good start.

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