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Three tools to stop companies spying on your web browsing

Want to limit the ability of companies to track what sites you visit online? Check out these tools that shut down common ways used to track browsing habits.
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1 of 3 Nick Heath/ZDNet

Companies routinely watch what what we do online and build profiles of our likes and dislikes that can be mined for profit.

The Mozilla Foundation recently released the Lightbeam add-on that allows users to keep tabs on which sites are tracking their browsing habits and how they interact with sites.

Although Lightbeam allows users to block sites that are tracking them, there are tools that make it even easier to stop companies from watching your online activities.

Here are three apps for browsers that make it more difficult for online activity to be monitored by companies, although it's worth remembering that technology used to track online behaviour is constantly evolving.

Ghostery

Ghostery is a browser tool that allows web users to watch who they are being tracked by and block attempts to monitor them.

Ghostery places a button on the toolbar bar. Clicking this button displays a drop down menu that lists all of the companies operating activity tracking scripts on the current website. Users can block each company from tracking them, either on the current site or across all sites, by clicking a button next to the company name.

As well as blocking scripts that interact with cookies or web bugs, Ghostery can block code that loads part of a site, for instance a comment section.

Ghostery keeps a log of companies running scripts on sites you visit and sorts them into a browsable menu under the heading of Advertising, Analytics, Beacons, Privacy and Widgets. This menu can be used to block or allow scripts from these companies.

Sites can also be white-listed to enable them to run tracking scripts that are blocked on other sites.

Ghostery is available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, as well as a standalone app available for iOS.

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2 of 3 Nick Heath/ZDNet

DoNotTrackMe

DoNotTrackMe (DNTMe) is another tool for web browsers that collates who is tracking your browsing habits and blocks them.

Unlike Ghostery, which allows users to select which companies to block, DNTMe automatically blocks the majority of attempts to track a user. DNTMe blocks companies based on a list of hundreds of web server addresses used by advertising and other companies that track users. DNTMe stops the browser from communicating with these addresses.

DNTMe places a button in the toolbar that can be clicked to display a menu showing which companies are attempting to track you and which have been blocked. Users can find out more about some of the companies tracking them by clicking through to a guide written by DNTMe creators Abine. A graph in the menu displays how many times the tool has blocked an attempt to connect to a tracking company.

Like Ghostery, users can unblock companies from tracking them either on a particular site or on all sites.

DNTMe is available for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on desktop computers. DNTMe doesn't collect data about your browsing behaviour.

 

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3 of 3 Nick Heath/ZDNet

NoScript

Every time you load a website chances are you trigger a software script or two.

These scripts perform jobs ranging from loading in ads and images to harvesting data about the sites you visit.

NoScript is a plug-in for Firefox that prevents all non-whitelisted scripts from running on a site. The tool blocks all types of scripts that are commonly run on websites, including JavaScript and those written for Java, Flash and other browser plug-ins.

Enabling NoScript greatly cuts down on the number of third party companies that can connect to your browser when visiting a site. The amount that NoScript reduces third party connections was recently demonstrated by the security blog TaoSecurity. The blog showed the number of third party connections when visiting nhl.com, nfl.com, mlb.com, and google.com dropped from 66 to nine when NoScript was enabled.

NoScript presents users with a bar at the base of the browser that lists all of the scripts blocked on the current web page. From the bar users can enable scripts hosted by a particular web address to run on the current site, across all sites or to whitelist individual sites to run all scripts. Settings can also be altered using a toolbar button.

Although NoScript may cause problems with how some sites and apps load initially users can prevent this by enabling the necessary scripts, across all sites or on the current site.

The add-on also boosts security as by blocking scripts by default NoScript cuts off some common vectors used to infect computers with malware and steal personal details. NoScript provides protections against both XSS and clickjacking.

Those who feel comfortable getting a bit more hands-on can set additional options for how to treat scripts from sites classified as trusted or untrusted, or when connecting via HTTPS.

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