Internet privacy is something Doug and I spend a great deal of time on during the show and is actually a topic a lot of you, our listeners say they want to hear more about. It was not all that long ago that Doug and I asked everyone to take part in Operation Smoke Screen. The idea was we would flood search data collectors with crap and make some of the marketing data they collected useless. However, while this might sound like fun and could be effective if enough people took part, it was not going to stop the marketing people from spying on your web browsing activity.
The government, due to public pressure has actually been looking at ways to give us back some privacy and the industry came up with a method called, Do Not Track, this is similar to the Do Not Call system we have on phones. The idea is you can enable a setting in your browser that would tell a website to NOT use your browsing data while there in an effort to track your movement or create marketing data. Just like Do Not Call this sounds like a good ide and just like Do Not Call it is less than effective.
The reason it is not effective is that first the person has to opt out. This means by default you give the companies permission to track you just because you exist, thus you arte being tracked automatically. To Opt Out you need to be aware of your options and then find the settings needed and make sure they are switched on. However while that ends what you need to do there is another part to this that you have no control over, and that is if the web site you are going to will bother to pay attention to your choice. That’s right you can say no all you like but they can choose to ignore you, track you without you knowing it and there is repercussions.
Well a little company in Boston decided this was not good enough. Abine is dedicated to helping users to enjoy a better level of online privacy than we have now. To introduce themselves to the world they have a free program called Do Not Track Plus. This program goes a step beyond the passive opt out system that is built into some browsers such as Internet Explorer 9. Rather than taking a passive approach this program is very active, it works to stop more than 600 different tracking technologies actively. By actively blocking the technology the choice to be tracked using these technologies is now 100% in the users hands and the companies will only be able to by pass this by using new technologies. Never fear however the folks at Abine are watching for this and will update, much as anti-virus companies do to keep your data private.
For the last few weeks I have taken Do Not Track Plus for a test spin on my Internet Explorer and Chrome browsers. The picture on the left was taken using my IE9 browser and visiting MSNBC. The screen shot is showing the program after I requested to see what it had found. Now I expanded this fully so you can see what the program is doing.
When it is not expended the program is nothing but a small circle sitting on the browser toolbar. I have run a few browser benchmarks with the DNTP program active and with it uninstalled and there was no performance hit from using the program. In page open speeds there might be a slight slow down but nothing we could notice with anything short of a program measuring it specifically, in real life the performance is the same.
When a page loads the program is watching for various tracking technologies and then blocks them when they try to open. As you can see the program is looking for three specific areas of tracking; Social Networking, Ad Networks and various misc. companies.
When you are at a webpage the program will show you how many total tracking it has stopped on that page and by clicking the button you can see the specifics in each area. I can tell you now I was really surprised at how much tracking some sites have while others have none.
Now in some cases you might actually want some of these trackers to work, I do not know why but you might. If this is the case you can go into the settings and pick the specific trackers you do not want blocked. The default is to block everything and I can tell you I have had no glitches on any website when doing this.
After all my testing I noticed that a number of ads I used to see before are no longer showing up. Turning off the program allowed the ads to appear again. The end result has been that my browsing experience has not really changed but I am now more securing in knowing that companies that had thought they could track me without my permission are now no longer gaining data from me.
Now I am not going to tell you that this program will give you complete privacy, it cannot. The reason is that you have to do some of the work to, lets face it there is no program that can stop us from posting to the internet if we want to. However this simple, little, free program does give you a level of privacy that is not usually there. It is super easy to use, just install it and that is it, you are protected. This makes it a great add-on for anyone, novice or geek.
Operation Smokescreen was our effort to help you befuddle the people tracking us on the internet, with Do Not Track Plus we go from befuddling with a smoke screen to vanishing from their tracking with a Cloaking Device. Do Not Track Plus is running now on my system and will continue to do so, I like knowing that people cannot spy on me and make money from my browsing. Considering the price this one is a no brainer and should be on everyone system.
Abine Interview and Review Segment as Aired 7 April 2012