EFF Says Its Anti-Tracking Tool Blocks New Form Of Digital Fingerprinting

The digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation today unveiled a beta version of Privacy Badger -- a tool aimed at helping people avoid online data collection and behaviorally targeted ads.

Privacy Badger, an add-on for Chrome and Firefox, says it “blocks spying ads and invisible trackers.” The EFF characterizes the tool as an “answer to intrusive and objectionable practices in the online advertising industry, and many advertisers' outright refusal to meaningfully honor Do Not Track requests.”

The EFF says that Privacy Badger detects whether an ad network tracks users without their permission. If so, the tool will block ads and content from that company. The digital rights group also says that ad networks can “unblock themselves” by promising to respect do-not-track requests that users transmit via their browsers.

The new version of Privacy Badger also automatically limits tracking via social media widgets, such as the “Like” button. The EFF says that the tool now replaces that type of widget with a “stand-in version” that lets people “like” something, but prevents tracking.

The earlier version of the tool simply blocked those widgets. “Privacy Badger's beta version has gotten smarter: it can block the tracking while still giving you the option to see and click on those buttons if you so choose,” EFF technology projects director Peter Eckersley said in a statement.

The EFF is releasing the tool the same day that ProPublica reported on the emergence of a new type of supercookie -- “canvas fingerprinting” technology, which tracks users based on characteristics of their computers.

That fingerprinting code, written by AddThis, reportedly was found on 5% of the 100,000 most popular sites. AddThis says it doesn't use any data it collects via the fingerprinting for ad targeting if users opt out of online behavioral advertising.

The EFF's Eckersley says that Privacy Badger currently is able to prevent AddThis from tracking users. “It's really a simple message: if you try to track people without their consent, it doesn't matter whether you use cookies, canvas fingerprints, or some other kind of supercookie -- Privacy Badger will find you, and block you,” he says in an email to MediaPost. “Rather than building fancier and more intrusive trackers, the right thing for companies to be doing is implementing meaningful respect for users' Do Not Track requests."

Every major browser developer now offers users the opportunity to send do-not-track requests to the sites they visit. But those requests don't actually block tracking. Instead, publishers and ad networks are free to respond however they want to the signals. With a few notable exceptions online publishers and ad networks today largely ignore those signals. The Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium is still trying to forge an agreement between publishers, ad companies and advocates about how to interpret those signals -- but it's not clear that the various players will ever see eye to eye on this issue.

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2 comments about "EFF Says Its Anti-Tracking Tool Blocks New Form Of Digital Fingerprinting".
  1. John Berard from Credible Context , July 21, 2014 at 7:19 p.m.
    Just checked this by visiting www.whitehouse.gov (cited by ProPublica as an AddThis partner) and viola, the Badger got it. Nice job, EFF
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 22, 2014 at 9:54 a.m.
    Tremendous !