Electronic Frontier Foundation Self-Service Tech Analyzes Privacy In Browsers

An online tracking tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) aims to help people who are searching and browsing sites analyze the privacy protections in their Web browser -- Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Edge -- through a tool it calls Panopticlick.

Online Web site visitors come in contact with online trackers in Web browsers that can identify and send data about online activities to a number of advertising networks and exchanges, data brokers, and tracking companies.

While some people install ad trackers or blockers to protect themselves, but many are not effective. EFF's Panopticlick checks browsers and add-ons to assess the privacy protections users have in place. It can also suggest remedies for under-protected browsers.

Despite layers of protection, technology can identify consumers through a technique called a "browser fingerprint," a combination of the operating system, browser, and plug-ins. "Panopticlick also analyzes the uniqueness of your browser to see if you are still at risk from this kind of data-gathering, even if you have privacy-protective software installed," per EFF, which does admit the tool will collect "anonymous data for technologists to analyze so they can improve privacy tools like EFF’s Privacy Badger and develop others down the road."



Panopticlick is a EFF research project that began in 2010. The results use several simulated tracking domains to trigger tracker blockers. Some blockers such as Adblock Plus or Ghostery are triggered by URL parameters that match ads or tracking beacons. Other blockers such as AdAway or Disconnect match on a per-domain basis, and the EFF works to have its test domains included in such tools’ lists. Still other blockers like Privacy Badger use what the organization calls a "discovery" approach, blocking the inclusion of trackers by detecting their use across domains.

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