We released a new version of Privacy Badger that updates how we fight “link tracking” across a number of Google products. With this update Privacy Badger removes tracking from links in Google Docs, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Images results. Privacy Badger now also removes tracking from links added after scrolling through Google Search results.
Link tracking is a creepy surveillance tactic that allows a company to follow you whenever you click on a link to leave its website. As we wrote in our original announcement of Google link tracking protection, Google uses different techniques in different browsers. The techniques also vary across Google products. One common link tracking approach surreptitiously redirects the outgoing request through the tracker’s own servers. There is virtually no benefit 1 for you when this happens. The added complexity mostly just helps Google learn more about your browsing.
It’s been a few years since our original release of Google link tracking protection. Things have changed in the meantime. For example, Google Search now dynamically adds results as you scroll the page (“infinite scroll” has mostly replaced distinct pages of results). Google Hangouts no longer exists! This made it a good time for us to update Privacy Badger’s first party tracking protections.
We’ll get into the technical explanation about how this all works below, but the TL;DR is that this is just one way that Privacy Badger continues to create a less tracking- and tracker-riddled internet experience.
This update is an overhaul of how Google link tracking removal works. Trying to get it all done inside a “content script” (a script we inject into Google pages) was becoming increasingly untenable. Privacy Badger wasn’t catching all cases of tracking and was breaking page functionality. Patching to catch the missed tracking with the content script was becoming unreasonably complex and likely to break more functionality.
Going forward, Privacy Badger will still attempt to replace tracking URLs on pages with the content script, but will no longer try to prevent links from triggering tracking beacon requests. Instead, it will block all such requests in the network layer.
Often the link destination is replaced with a redirect URL in response to interaction with the link. Sometimes Privacy Badger catches this mutation in the content script and fixes the link in time. Sometimes the page uses a more complicated approach to covertly open a redirect URL at the last moment, which isn’t caught in the content script. Privacy Badger works around these cases by redirecting the redirect to where you actually want to go in the network layer.
Google’s Manifest V3 (MV3) removes the ability to redirect requests using the flexible webRequest API that Privacy Badger uses now. MV3 replaces blocking webRequest with the limited by design Declarative Net Request (DNR) API. Unfortunately, this means that MV3 extensions are not able to properly fix redirects at the network layer at this time. We would like to see this important functionality gap resolved before MV3 becomes mandatory for all extensions.
Privacy Badger still attempts to remove tracking URLs with the content script so that you can always see and copy to clipboard the links you actually want, as opposed to mangled links you don’t. For example, without this feature, you may expect to copy “
https://example.com”, but you will instead get something like “
To learn more about this update, and to see a breakdown of the different kinds of Google link tracking, visit the pull request on GitHub.
To install Privacy Badger, visit privacybadger.org. Thank you for using Privacy Badger!
- 1. No benefit outside of removing the referrer information, which can be accomplished without resorting to obnoxious redirects.
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