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People are tracking which websites you visit, whether you open their email and more – but you can stop them. Here’s how.

Cool Websites and Tools digs up things not yet covered on MakeUseOf, all focused on a particular theme. Today that theme is blocking tracking tools Control Your Web Content: Essential Extensions to Block Tracking and Scripts Control Your Web Content: Essential Extensions to Block Tracking and Scripts The truth is, there is always someone or something monitoring your Internet activity and content. Ultimately, the less information we let these groups have the safer we'll be. Read More , something we’ve covered a few times but for which more tools seem to pop up constantly. Let’s get started.

Ugly Email (Chrome, Firefox Coming Soon): Spot Email Trackers in Gmail

A variety of services give people and companies who email you a chance to track whether you’ve opened an email How To Track Your Emails In Gmail & Find Out If The Recipient Has Read It How To Track Your Emails In Gmail & Find Out If The Recipient Has Read It You might send a vital email to a friend alerting him to a change of plans. A read receipt at least lets you know if your friend has read it, or do you need to... Read More , and where you were when you opened it. How? By embedding a tiny, one-pixel image in the message, and then tracking when the image is loaded and by whom.

If you’d rather not be tracked, Ugly Email can let you know when trackers are being used in Gmail. You can then avoid opening such emails if you’re concerned – or just mentally note that a particular company or person is tracking you.

ugly-email-pitch

Currently Ugly Email can track emails from the following services:

  • Streak
  • Yesware
  • Mandrill
  • MailChimp
  • Postmark
  • Bananatag

Support for other services is apparently coming, as is a version of the extension for Firefox users.

PixelBlock (Chrome): Block Email Trackers in Gmail

PixelBlock goes a step further than Ugly Email, by not only letting you know about email trackers but also blocking them. This means that, even if you open an email with an email tracker embedded, the tracker won’t work.

pixel-block-chrome

Some email marketers will follow up aggressively if they see you’ve opened the email; this tool makes that less likely.

Privacy Badger (Firefox and Chrome): Privacy Tool From the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Of course, email isn’t the only place you’re being tracked: as you browse the web, a variety of services – social networks, ad networks, and more – are monitoring your activity for a variety of reasons. You’ve probably heard of using services like AdBlock Plus or Disconnect to prevent tracking, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation found these and other solutions lacking. Their solution was to make their own browser extensions for privacy, called Privacy Badger.

privacy-badger-picture

This browser plugin blocks any and all third party sites that try to track you as you browse the web. This means it will block most (but not all) online ads, as well as social networking buttons.

Google Analytics Opt-Out (All Major Browsers)

A lot of websites, ours included, use a service called Google Analytics to find out how many people look at their site, which articles are the most popular and where these people live. Such information isn’t specific to any one person: it’s just a general overview of visitors.

Still, some people might be uncomfortable with such tracking, or with how much Google knows about them How Much Does Google Really Know About You? How Much Does Google Really Know About You? Read More , which is why this browser extension is offered. It’s available for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera.

Gmeluis for Inbox (Chrome): Customize Google’s Inbox

We’ve shown you how Gmelius can customize Gmail Customize Gmail's Online Interface With Gmelius [Firefox, Chrome & Opera] Customize Gmail's Online Interface With Gmelius [Firefox, Chrome & Opera] Remove features you don't like from Gmail, leaving behind only the things you do. Gmelius is a simple extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera that lets you turn off parts of Gmail you're not interested... Read More , but if you’ve moved on to Inbox you’ll notice it doesn’t work anymore – until now. A new extension from Gmelius is specifically built for Inbox. You’ll get all kinds of customization options.

gmelius-settings

It’s also, so far as we know, the first tool out there that can block email trackers for Google Inbox users.

“Hey, What About Firefox Users?”

Cool Websites and Apps is a column that tries to focus on new things – meaning everything we cover hasn’t been featured on the site yet. Sometimes this means some platforms are favoured over others, and today that means Chrome. Firefox users might feel left out, but they can check out Disconnect, which blocks a variety of trackers Disconnect 2: Make The Web A Safer, Faster Place [Chrome & Firefox] Disconnect 2: Make The Web A Safer, Faster Place [Chrome & Firefox] Read More or the the top privacy extensions for Firefox Use These 6 Extensions To Improve Privacy & Security On Firefox Use These 6 Extensions To Improve Privacy & Security On Firefox You are being watched on the Internet – but if you use Mozilla Firefox, some of its great add-ons can help protect your privacy and security on the Web. Read More we outlined a while back.

While we’re at it, why not list even more privacy tools in the comments below. Let me know your favourites, okay? I can’t wait until you all say “AdBlock”.

Image Credits: sitting in dark room Via Shutterstock

  1. Tinkicker
    April 8, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Got anything that will block the obnoxious spam comments I see here on MUO all the time, like the second one from top?
    I'm surprised Dragonmouth didn't bring that up :D

    • Justin Pot
      April 8, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Believe me: if we knew a way to block spam like this, we'd implement it. Eventually we'll be switching to a system that requires logging in using FB/Google/something, and I hope the spam drops then. Stay tuned.

  2. rabadonefren
    April 6, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Code trading system is so great they support me a lot in trading and making money, unlike the forex it disappoints me a lot. I will never trade back to forex again!

  3. Qualimer
    April 3, 2015 at 7:23 am

    I prefer not to rely on add-ons, as they are usually browser dependent and seem to contribute to a slower web experience. So instead, I take advantage of my system's HOSTS file, which does the same thing as most privacy extensions via rerouting undesirable traffic to '0.0.0.0' or '127.0.0.1' (in effect, HOSTS files prevent tracking websites from loading in the first place). The fact that it blocks ads and tracking in places other than web browsers (uncommon, but it does happen, e.g advertising in applications like uTorrent) is also an extra benefit.

    • charmingguy
      April 3, 2015 at 10:00 am

      That sounds interesting. Although I do not quite understand it. Not much of a techie in all honesty.
      Care to explain more about this please.

      Thanks:)

    • Qualimer
      April 3, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Sure, I'll see what I can do. I'm not exactly a technical person either but I think I'm pretty good at explaining things. ^_-

      Every operating system has a local file which points hostsnames (that is, URLs, e.g. makeuseof.com) to certain IP addresses (numbers which the URL actually represents e.g. when we type in 'makeuseof.com' into our address bar it just translates to '54.221.192.241'). This file is called the HOSTS file. Depending on the operating system, this can be located in multiple different areas. For recent Windows systems, this is 'C:WindowsSystem32driversetcHOSTS'.

      A HOSTS file entry looks like this (IP-Address, URL):
      54.221.192.241 makeuseof.com

      In its regular state, it doesn't really point to anything important (not really, but you don't need to know that), however, the addition of extra hostnames can be useful. In this case, preventing tracking.

      As we can see, the HOSTS file points a URL to a specific IP address, and so directs us to our intended destination. However, what if we were to modify that IP address? For example, the IP address of 'google.com' is '173.194.78.139'. So taking the 'makeuseof.com' entry above, what do you think would happen if we were to change that IP address to Google's?

      54.221.192.241 makeuseof.com -> 173.194.78.139 makeuseof.com

      Yes, this would result in being redirected to Google whenever you tried to visit MakeUseOf (and what a tragedy that would be). And this is where the fun starts. Your laptop has its own special IP address called 'localhost', which looks like this: '127.0.0.1'. Furthermore, there are many invalid IP addresses, one of which is of great interest to us: '0.0.0.0', which will always be invalid. If we were to, say, change the above example to one of these two, you would be completely unable to visit MakeUseOf because you were directed to your own computer or somewhere invalid. And so my conclusion.

      This can be applied to advertising and tracking URLs. For example, 'googleads.g.doubleclick.net', one of Google's adservers. If we were to place this entry into our HOSTS file, like so:
      0.0.0.0 googleads.g.doubleclick.net

      This would result in our Internet surfing being completely devoid of any content provided by this website, which includes ads and cookies. Apply this to multiple tracking websites and voila, Ghostery, Adblock, you name it, HOSTS files can replace them!

      Naturally, you don't need to begin searching for specific URLs to block - there are websites which have prebuilt HOSTS entries for you! A good place to start would be 'http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm'. They supply an extremely extensive HOSTS file which blocks major Trackers, Advertisers, etc. as well as explaining the stuff I've just talked about in finer detail.

      Hope all of this helps you. ^_^

    • Justin Pot
      April 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      We covered an interesting alternative last week, guys, I'm not sure if you saw it:

      http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/adblock-everywhere-raspberry-pi-hole-way/

    • charmingguy
      April 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      You said it your self that uour a pretty good at explaining things and indeed you did a grand job.
      I will have a look at that site you mentioned.

      Thanks a bunch:)

    • Qualimer
      April 3, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      That's excellent to hear! If you're interested in HOSTS files and use Windows, perhaps take a gander at this application, HostsMan. http://www.abelhadigital.com/hostsman

      It's a simple way to add and edit entries to your HOSTS file. It's pretty straightforward and intuitive, so you'll be fine if you try it out. ^_-

    • charmingguy
      April 4, 2015 at 10:41 am

      I have added that to my apps/utilities folder. So when I have some more time I will read it all. I already like the concept.

      Once again thanks a lot. It is all very helpful Qualimer :-)

    • Qualimer
      April 4, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Happy to be of help. Hope it works for you! ^_^

  4. Paulo Matsui
    April 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    You forgot to mention browsing track-stopping Ghostery. It is completely transparent and non-intrusive.

    • Justin Pot
      April 2, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      I didn't forget it! It's just that "Cool Websites and Apps" tries to focus only on things we haven't covered yet, and we've done Ghostery to death.

  5. charmingguy
    April 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Forgot to mention I use the following search engines: Startpage, Qwant, PrivateLee and DuckDuckGo.
    So all my searches are supposedly anonymous anyways.

    • Justin Pot
      April 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Only thing I'd add for the truly paranoid is some kind of VPN. Tunnelbear is good, and doesn't keep logs. (Don't trust free VPNs, as a rule)

    • michel
      April 2, 2015 at 11:21 pm

      Why are paid vpn's more trustworthy?

    • Justin Pot
      April 3, 2015 at 2:30 am

      Because offering a VPN service is pricey, meaning they have to make money somehow to stay up. And if you're not paying, the only thing they have to monetize is your web traffic. Does that sound trustworthy?

  6. charmingguy
    April 2, 2015 at 11:01 am

    Currently I use: No Script, UBlock, Privacy Badger, Better Privacy, HTTPS Everywhere, ZenMate and Flash Control.
    Would that be the right mix of security or did I miss something?.

    Thanks.

    • Justin Pot
      April 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      I can't picture many trackers getting through all that, wow.

  7. Alok
    April 2, 2015 at 7:00 am

    Thank You for informing about these great tools..

    • Justin Pot
      April 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      I'm glad they were helpful!

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