Even talking about tracking, privacy, or blocking ads will cause most people to tune out. If this is you, stay with me for a minute; you may be glad you did. (If you just want to skip ahead to the filter, scroll down) Nearly everything we do online can and will be tracked if advertising networks have anything to do with it. I learned about ad tracking in depth first from a friend of mine who works in a lab responsible for collecting and data mining information used for personalized advertising. Just how anonymous is the data they collect? Privacy policies may lead you to believe that it is, but in fact, much of what you may consider “nunya” is part of that tracking data. This includes things you may or may not want to share with these companies—especially if it can be comprehensively reconstructed to be about you personally. I’m not referring to the level of surveillance the NSA has on you according to Edward Snowden, but let’s just say it’s not something to sneer at.
This got me thinking and doing a little research of my own. I’ve had a chance to model several types of makeshift protection agents in the past, so I can definitely appreciate solid open source apps that protect people from invasive tracking. Im sure you remember a few years ago, many web browsers like Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox introduced “do not track” as a user preference, but what does this actually do? It sends a header with your traffic and leaves it up to the ad networks to respect that signal. That was a few years ago, how bad is ad tracking these days? Signs say things have gotten worse. Recently, Apple has shared their point of view on how ad tech has become a user experience problem on mobile devices and has begun to take action. Duckduckgo.com has led the effort to “un-bubble” web searches and has stood out against tracking. Demand progress has led the fight to protect our rights online. Even the ad networks have even made it easier for us to opt-out from one place. This may sound great, but ask yourself one question.
Do you believe companies who track and profile the masses will voluntarily stop without being regulated by law?
If not, block them! One method is to use browser extensions, which may slow down your web browser. Also beware that the most popular extension called Adblock Plus sold out to some of the largest ad networks to allow them to whitelist themselves. You could also use an internal or external proxy, DNS, or VPN service that you trust, especially if they share their technology with you.
Disconnect.me makes opting out of online tracking super easy. They have created a tracking blocker app that works like a charm. Disconnect runs extra processes to encrypt traffic and works more like a VPN (which is fine if you’re not concerned with having a different IP address and having some of your local ports used for that purpose). Developers may want to use a local proxy such as the outdated-but-still-works Glimmerblocker to avoid conflicts with Apache or other local servers. I’ve been happy with the performance of that setup for general adblocking, even if it doesn’t intercept https and wanted to add a static copy of Disconnect’s malvertising filter list from http://disconnect.me/lists/malvertising. Enjoy! Subscribe to this URL in Glimmerblocker or get the Gist