The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently announced that its tracker-munching browser add-on is ready for prime time. Privacy Badger version 1.0 is available now for Chrome and Firefox. The add-on was released as a public alpha in May 2014 and hit beta about two months later.
The new release adds a few extra features, including the ability to block select, unspecified "super-cookies," as well as the ability to block browser fingerprinting. If you've never heard of the latter, it's a common trick used to track users by collecting various facts about your system such as browser type, installed plugins, time zone, and screen resolution and depth, among others. Individually, those features may not be particularly revealing, but in combination they tend to allow for unique identification.
You can test this out by visiting the EFF's Panopticlick project. In my test Friday morning, the EFF said my configuration was unique among nearly 5.7 million other browsers tested.
Why this matters: Targeted advertising is all the rage in the marketing world since it allows advertisers to more precisely reach their target market. In the process, however, users are tracked in an intrusive way. There's no getting around the fact that advertising pays the bills for many websites--including this one. But does that mean I need to see ads on every site I visit for that Leatherman I was researching last week? I don't think so.
What Privacy Badger does
Privacy Badger is not an ad blocker. Instead, the add-on focuses on blocking third-party trackers that try to build a portfolio about your online tastes and habits in an effort to deliver more precisely targeted advertising.
As a result of its efforts, however, Privacy Badger can end up blocking ads that fail to work without fully functioning trackers. The add-on also "learns" about what to block--and what not to--as you use it. All trackers are also fully adjustable. Just click on the Privacy Badger icon in your browser and block or unblock third-party trackers using the color-coded sliders. Green means unblocked, yellow means partially blocked, and red is completely blocked. The menu also includes an option to report if Privacy Badger is breaking a site's functionality.
Do Not Track
When you install Privacy Badger, the add-on automatically flips the switch to enable your browser's Do Not Track (DNT) header. This is basically a message delivered to every website you visit that says "do not track me, please."
Of course, many websites ignore your browser's polite request, which is when Privacy Badger swings into action.
The one thing Privacy Badger won't do is block any third-party cookies from companies that have vowed to honor DNT requests, as part of the EFF's new DNT policy announced on Monday.
If you're not happy with that, however, you can still manually adjust how any tracker is handled via Privacy Badger's drop-down interface.