Blocking Trackers in Your Browser: Choosing a Tracker Blocker

Unless you’re using what we call a privacy-browser (like Brave or Firefox), your browser is leaking huge amounts of personal data: your search history, site history, social media accounts, past purchases, likes, preferences, and other information. 

All of that info is getting into the hands of dozens or hundreds of companies. These can be marketing companies, advertisers, ad purchasers, social media companies, publishers, or political organizations and they’re able to compile comprehensive profiles on you with all the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of data points they have simply based on your browsing.

It’s just not smart to browse without blocking trackers. They’re getting your data, while you’re getting nothing.

If you don’t want to switch browsers, the best step is to add a tracker blocking extension. There are dozens and dozens of these, and it can be difficult to choose the right one for you.

Tracking blockers are not all the same. They vary in terms of how they work, how effective they are, their user interfaces and level of options and data they share, their impact on performance (both speed and sometimes memory usage).

Important note for iOS users: Apple has put tracker blocking into iOS and MacOS itself, so instead of adding extensions to your browser you add ‘Content Blockers’ in the device settings. These are blockers that work in Safari and any embedded browsers (like any app that opens a browser window). Every iPhone user should have a Content Blocker installed. 

Below, we’ll go over three tiers of tracker blockers and recommend the right one for you depending on how technical and familiar you are with the technology.

Tier 1: Easy mode – the set it and forget it

If you’ve never used a tracker blocker before and are unfamiliar with most blocking or privacy software (like VPNs, password managers) or haven’t ever installed an extension on your browser, you should look for a tracker blocker that requires little to no input from you.

These extensions, like DuckDuckGo’s Chrome extension or PrivacyBadger, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are designed to be installed, turned on, and never thought of again. They don’t have any elaborate settings beside site-specific toggling which allows you to quickly turn off the extension just for a site (and keep it off) in case it doesn’t work.

What’s the tradeoff?

You don’t have much control with these extensions, which may be a good thing if you’re new to tracker blockers. Because these extensions use an automated list to filter out content, some trackers may pass through so you’re not as protected compared to some of the other tracker blockers out there. Still, it’s a great stepping stone and the extension will block a lot of trackers found on most sites.

Tier 2: Advanced – More control but more effort

Many of the built-in tracker blockers found on most browsers apply here. You have to do some work in order to get them to work effectively for you. Other tracker blockers we like that are in the middle tier are 1Blocker, Better Blocker (both for Safari), and Ghostery for multiple browsers.

These blockers offer more robust blocking features and options but also require a little more input from you. They block trackers, ads, fingerprinting, and cryptomining, which are all bad for your privacy. 

What’s the tradeoff?

However, because they block more than just trackers (and are likely to be better at blocking more trackers), you may experience some hiccups while you browse.

Some websites won’t work properly or may block or limit your access because you’re blocking certain elements. This is often the case when it comes to many publishers if you’re using an ad blocker. So you may have to keep a white list for ad-blockers or customize your blocker depending on the kind of website you’re on.

However, if you’ve used an ad blocker before (or are just tired of all the ads), this middle tier of blockers is for you.

Tier 3: Expert – More power but possibly more headaches

If you’re pretty comfortable with browser extensions and are usually the type to jump into a program or apps settings to customize it to your liking, this is the option for you.

We like uBlock Origin and some of the more advanced features on Brave and Firefox apply here. By applying the strongest settings available, you can ensure few trackers (and more) ever see what you’re doing on your browser.

What’s the tradeoff?

Because these extensions use a long list of filters (and potentially multiple ones) while also blocking other elements such as ads, there’s a higher likelihood that some of the websites you’ll go to won’t work at all. Because it happens more often, you’ll have to continue to play with settings and customize the trackers’ behaviors for each site. But if you prefer maximum blocking and options for customization, this might be a feature, not a bug.

Don’t browse without protection

While tracking blockers can be confusing to select and to use at times, it’s just not a good idea to ever browse without one. Even the ‘easy’ products we recommend stop a massive amount of tracking, and those are free, quick to install, and hardly noticeable. If you’re just starting out, get one of them!

The steps up to Advanced or Expert tracker blockers are each pretty large, offering small but potentially vital incremental protections in exchange for considerable increases in effort and often hassle. If you’re technical enough to work with them, or really want privacy while you’re browsing, try the ones we recommend. Those browsers are also free, do a lot of blocking, and are easy to turn off or delete if the hassle becomes unbearable. But if you can get comfortable with them you’ll stop leaking a ton of personal data while you browse.

If you want an easier solution for browser privacy, consider Brave or FireFox. These are fast modern browsers that have been re-written from the ground up with privacy in mind. But a lot of people aren’t ready to switch browsers, and if that’s you – grab one of the extensions recommended above to keep your browsing safe.

Photo by Anwaar Ali on Unsplash

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