Note: for more comprehensive help on enabling all pro-privacy features in your browser, check out our previous guide.
First Things First: What is Do Not Track?
“Tracking” refers to the many different methods that websites, advertisers, ad networks, and others use to learn about your web browsing behavior. This includes information about what sites you visit and for how long; things you like, dislike, and comment on; what you search for; and what you buy. They then share this information across the web to show you ads, products, or services specifically targeted to you.
Here’s an example: after you search for “Texas barbeque” in Google, you start seeing ads for Dallas restaurants and Lone Star State barbeque contests on all the pages you visit. Your search told the advertising networks that you’re at least somewhat interested in Texas bbq, and now they’ll follow you around the web throwing related ads at you.
Although there are a few ways of blocking targeted advertising, the browsers do it with what’s called a Do Not Track header. Think of it like this: when you visit a website, your browser waves around a little flag–the Do Not Track header–as soon as it arrives. That flag tells the website, its advertisers, and other content providers that you don’t want to be tracked. In theory, everyone who sees this flag will react to it by not targeting ads to you. Although you’ll still see ads, they’ll be anonymous: they won’t be targeted to appeal to you.
The Problem with Do Not Track
Here’s the catch: websites don’t have to honor this message. Following the Do Not Track order is completely voluntary. Today, 99% of sites don’t do anything about Do Not Track. And it’s not because of effort: The Associated Press, the first major web service to follow the Do Not Track header, reported that “it only took a few hours for one engineer to implement.”
We’re hopeful that more sites will honor the Do Not Track header in the future, but for now, there’s no harm in enabling it.
Why Do Not Track Plus is Better
We offer more than the “wait and see” approach of the Do Not Track header. Instead of passively asking websites to “please don’t track me” and hoping they’ll listen, we actively disable ad networks and web bugs from tracking you. We block your browser from even requesting targeted ads from advertisers. The ad networks won’t even know you’re there at all.
In sum, we don’t rely on just the Do Not Track header. We still send it as a precautionary measure, but we do much more to protect your privacy. Intrigued? Try Do Not Track Plus for free.
Now that you understand the basics (and the limitations) of browser Do Not Track, we’ll tell you how to start using it.
Enabling Do Not Track in Apple Safari
Now, here’s how you enable Do Not Track. We were a little surprised at how hard it was to figure out:
1. Go to the Safari menu, then click “Preferences.”
2. Go to the “Advanced” tab on the right. It looks like a gear.
3. Check the box next to “Show Develop menu in menu bar.”
4. Close out of Preferences. You should now see a new menu, “Develop,” at the top of your screen between “Bookmarks” and “Window.”
5. Click the new “Develop” menu, then click “Send Do Not Track HTTP Header.” You should see a check mark next to it when you’re done.
Enabling Do Not Track in Google Chrome
Google has held out against Do Not Track, instead releasing an extension called Keep My Opt-Outs. Google bills it as “a one-step, persistent opt-out of personalized advertising and related data tracking.” Keep My Opt Outs works by installing opt-out cookies on your computer. These are “good,” site-specific cookies that prevent a corresponding site from installing future cookies.
The downsides to Keep My Opt Outs? First, you have to install an extension rather than simply changing your browser settings. Second, Keep My Opt Outs doesn’t actually block any tracking and advertising networks. Their cookies still allow the networks to store, collect, analyze, and use data about you; they’re only swearing that they won’t show you a targeted ad on that site. To read more about privacy in Google Chrome, check out Google’s “Overview of privacy settings” page.
To install Keep My Opt Outs:
1. Visit the Chrome web store.
2. Click the blue “Install” button.
3. You’ll receive a yellow notification saying that “Keep My Opt Outs is now installed.”
4. To manage Keep My Opt Outs and other installed extensions, click the “Window” menu, then click “Extensions.”
5. In the extensions window, you can disable, uninstall, or choose to allow the extension to run while you’re in incognito mode.
Enabling Do Not Track in Microsoft Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer supports Do Not Track through Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs for short). TPLs block content from sites that appear on the list. Once a user downloads a TPL, it’s automatically updated. Microsoft offers four sponsored lists maintained by Abine, EasyList, PrivacyChoice, and TRUSTe.
Contrary to what you might think, installing more TPLs won’t necessarily give you more protection. Because TRUSTe’s list actually allows a great deal of content, enabling the TRUSTe TPL alongside any other TPL will negate the protective effect of the second TPL in many cases. Read more about why more tracking protection isn’t always better.
Here’s how to enable Tracking Protection in IE:
1. With an IE window open, click the “Tools” button (it has a gear icon on it), point to “Safety,” and then click “Tracking Protection.”
2. In the Manage Add-On box that pops up, select “Your Personalized list” and then click “Enable.” This installs a list based on your browsing history.
3. To change, manage, or add lists, open Tracking Protection and click the link that reads “Get a Tracking Protection List online.” Alternatively, you can visit Microsoft’s TPL page here.
Enabling Do Not Track in Mozilla Firefox
Of all the browsers, Firefox has the simplest Do Not Track feature. Here’s how to turn it on:
1. With a Firefox window open, click on the “Firefox” menu, then “Preferences.”
2. With the preferences box open, click on the “Privacy” tab. It looks like a purple masquerade mask.
3. Check the box next to “Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked.”
4. To disable Do Not Track, uncheck this box.
As we discussed when talking about Google Chrome above, Firefox’s Do Not Track header isn’t mandatory and most sites don’t listen to it. For added protection against tracking in Firefox, try a privacy add-on like Do Not Track Plus.
We hope you found this guide helpful. Are you satisfied with the privacy options your browser offers? Why or why not? What would you like to see to feel more protected? Did we miss anything that you think we should include? Let us know by leaving a comment below.