Open source privacy tools µBlock and µMatrix

In the past we have been giving some attention to the tools Adblock Plus and RequestPolicy when we talked about enhancing your privacy and security online.

“The user decides what web content is acceptable or not in their browser.” – µBlock manifesto

Today we want to introduce you to two alternative (open source) tools for this, made by Raymond Hill: µBlock and µMatrix

µBlock

This is a simple tool, comparable to Adblock Plus, but it is open source and light-weight and very user friendly. This tool uses the approach and block-lists as AdBlock Plus and has the main advantage of being more lightweight as you can see in the graph below:

ublock

Source code and more information: https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock

µMatrix

This tool is comparable to RequestPolicy and is aimed at blocking non first party requests, like RequestPolicy. It has a nice matrix that you can easily click to allow/disallow certain requests. I have found that it works much better as it also allows related 3rd party domains. For instance redditmedia.com is not blocked on reddit.com, where RequestPolicy would block it.

umatrix

Source code and more information: https://github.com/gorhill/uMatrix

Installation

On the following links you find the installable extensions for Chromium and Firefox:

Conclusion

Both tools enhance your security and privacy online. They are easy to use and have great integration with the free Chrome (Chromium) browser. Unfortunately µMatrix is not yet available for Firefox, but this may only be a matter of time. I would highly recommend to use both tools in your Chromium install and I would recommend µBlock also on Firefox.

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Blocking Google and Facebook tracking using Ad Block Plus and Ghostery

abp_ghostery_iconsI was suprised to find out that both Google and Facebook were still tracking me after I installed “Ad Block Plus” with the “EasyPrivacy” subscription.

Facebook “like” widget not blocked on CNN.com

I was on CNN.com and I saw this little Facebook thingy:

follow_us

I expected that to be blocked by “Ad Block Plus” because I subscribe to the “EasyPrivacy” list. I started Firebug to see that the iframe was there and that is was loaded from the Facebook website:

cnn_follow_html

In the “blockable items” I verified that this widget was not blocked:

blockable_items2

This was unexpected to me, so I began to dig a little deeper in the workings of “Ad Block Plus”.

Google AdSense not blocked on nu.nl

On the Dutch news website (nu.nl) I saw that Google was whitelisted (shown green). I quickly found the filter source by hovering the rule, it said “Allow non-intrusive advertising”:

blockable_items

I was not aware of me allowing any tracking, especially not from Google. The main reason I have this plugin installed is to keep Google away. So, as you can understand I was not happy. How come “Ad Block Plus” had suddenly (from July 2013 according to dottech.org) decided some advertisers were better than others? Also why did “EasyPrivacy” not protect me against Facebook?

After some searching I found that this filter (that was enabled during the 2.0 update of the plugin) could be triggered with an obscure checkbox:

firefox_non_intrusive

This “acceptable ads feature” (as they call it themselves) is enabled by default as you can read in the “acceptable-ads” FAQ. Also, they are admitting that they are being paid:

…we are being paid by some larger properties that serve non-intrusive advertisements… – source

So what do you think? Has “Ad Block Plus” been paid by Google to unblock them? And why does the “EasyPrivacy” subscription not cover Facebook? Have they also been paid for that? (edit: The “Fanboy” subscriptions do block Facebook)

Ghostery to the rescue

I therefore decided to install Ghostery. This is another tool that promises to block tracking efforts. However, you must make sure that you configure it correctly:

  1. Options – General – Sharing options – Disable GhostRank
  2. Options – General – Blocking Options – Trackers – Select all
  3. Options – General – Blocking Options – Cookies – Select all
  4. Options – Advanced – Display Options – Select none
  5. Options – Advanced – Performance Options – Select all

Ghostery does not make a secret of their business model:

…it’s is made by an advertising company called Evidon … it is a Web tracking blocker that actually helps the ad industry – source

And remember, whenever you are not paying for a service, you are the product. So you better understand the business model behind these services. The business models of the “Ad Block Plus” and “Ghostery” plugins are (now) clear to me. This does NOT mean I endorse the use of these plugins. There are many arguments to use and also many to not use these plugins. Please  keep a critical mind and decide for yourself!

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