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Six browser plug-ins that protect your privacy

Rick Broida | Oct. 20, 2014
Want to avoid ads and keep your Web wanderings private? One of these six browser apps could do the trick.

On the other hand, this kind of granular approach makes Ghostery feel less automated than other tools, as it almost forces you to study and customize the various kinds of blockers. Indeed, after I'd enabled ad blocking, I found that YouTube videos played without commercials (bonus!), but Vevo music videos wouldn't play at all. To figure out a workaround took some toggle trial-and-error.

Bottom line: Assuming you can get past the irony of a privacy-minded plug-in that supports itself by collecting usage data, Ghostery offers robust blocking capabilities — but definitely requires some learning and customization.

Privacy Badger

Price: Free; accepts user contributions

Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox

A project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Privacy Badger is arguably the most altruistic ad- and tracker-blocker you can get. The very goal of the EFF is to "defend civil liberties in the digital world" — in this case, by preventing advertisers and others from tracking your Web movements.

What it does: Based on Adblock Plus code (but with a very different implementation, and limited to just Chrome and Firefox), Privacy Badger screens out the usual suspects: ads, third-party images, scripts and all manner of trackers.

How it performed: In a word: mediocre. Privacy Badger didn't block banner ads at sites like Facebook and YouTube, while the ads it blocked elsewhere were represented by ugly gray boxes with pixelated sad-face icons in the center. It did strip the commercials from YouTube videos, but not those on Hulu.

From a usability standpoint, Privacy Badger aims to keep things simple — with mixed results. There are no global settings (other than enable/disable), the idea being that users shouldn't have to monkey with customization. That's a nice change from, say, Ghostery, but perhaps it goes too far. Indeed, the tool offers no settings or controls whatsoever other than a three-position slider for each tracker it detects.

Those positions are red, yellow and green, which stand for "block a domain," "block cookies" and "allow a domain," respectively. For each site you visit and each tracker detected, Privacy Badger sets each switch as it deems logical. But how do you know if you should change, say, "apis.google.com" from yellow to red? And why does a site like TMZ show so many trackers set to green?

Thankfully, it's not necessary to make changes unless you run into some kind of obstacle, like a comment system not working properly. But for novice and even some tech-savvy users, Privacy Badger sometimes raises more questions than it answers.

Bottom line: Limited compatibility and customization options hamper a tool that's simply not as effective as other blockers, and therefore hard to recommend.

 

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