Privacy Badger, the browser add-on created by digital civil liberties organisation Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), has been updated to tackle link tracking by Google.
This follows a similar move in May when Facebook's and Twitter's use of the practice was blocked by EFF's add-on.
Link tracking refers to the practice used by web firms of following any user who leaves their site by clicking on a link. Facebook does this by replacing all ‘normal' URLs on its website with its own version behind the scenes, although if the user hovers over the URL this is not apparent. This URL (or ‘link shim' as it's known) reports information back to Facebook about the user and the destination link in a way that's invisible to the person surfing the web and occurs without their knowledge and consent.
Privacy Bader already prevents much third-party tracking, but this type of first-party surveillance is less common and harder to block. EFF says Google uses a similar method to Facebook for tracking users' browsing habits.
"After you perform a web search, Google presents you with a list of results," the organisation says on its website.
"On quick inspection, the links in the search results seem normal: hovering over a link to EFF's website shows that the URL underneath does, in fact, point to https://www.eff.org. But once you click on the link, the page will fire off a request to google.com, letting the company know where you're coming from and where you're going. This way, Google tracks not only what you search for, but which links you actually click on."
Blocking such activity is complicated by the way it works in different browsers, EFF says, and different Google properties such as Google Docs and Hangouts implement link shims in different ways.
Websites use a variety of methods to track users surreptitiously. Privacy Badger does not cover all of these, nor does it block first-party tracking on Gmail and some other Google sites, but EFF says it is continuing to work on expanding its extension's capabilities.
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