You don’t need to run multiple tracking protection lists at the same time. Period. In fact, doing so can give you less privacy online. How is that possible? Read on.
A recent study carried out by Which? Computing revealed a flaw with TPLs: if you use two or more at once, conflicting instructions on different lists will allow tracking by default. You may think you’re maximizing your protection by installing all four of Microsoft’s sponsored TPLs, but you may be doing yourself a disservice.
Of the four sponsored lists maintained by Abine, EasyList, PrivacyChoice, and TRUSTe, one of them—TRUSTe’s—actually allows a great deal of content. In other words, enabling the TRUSTe TPL alongside any other will negate the protective effect of the second TPL in many cases. Jonathan Mayer, the lead researcher on Stanford University’s ‘Do Not Track’ Project, explained,
“The TRUSTe TPL is almost exclusively what we’d call an ‘allow’ list. It ‘allows’ content from Acxiom, a major data aggregator. If you want to stop your online behaviour from being tracked, the last thing you’d want to do is install a list that guarantees that Acxiom can track you.”
Tech writer Ed Bott reported on the numbers of trackers that each TPL blocks and allows, finding that TRUSTe allowed 3,958 trackers and blocked…zero. That’s right: none. Abine’s TPL, on the other hand, blocked 94 trackers and allowed zero.
Knowing that using multiple TPLs can actually have the opposite effect of protecting you, what should you do?
- Stick with only one TPL
- Only enable those that block more trackers than they allow (we’d steer clear of TRUSTe’s list
- Use DoNotTrackPlus, which combines the Do Not Track header used by Firefox with TPLs used by Internet Explorer, for double protection
The bigger point: what do I really need to manage my online privacy?
Many users go install as much “stuff” as they can to protect their privacy. But there is increasing overlap between the features and functions of different popular privacy tools. This overlap creates unnecessary junk in users browsers. How can anyone decide what to get and what to get rid of?
Here’s what you might need:
- A proxy
- A cookie cleaner (including flash cookies)
- A script blocker that blocks ad tracking
- A way to opt out of behavioral advertising
- Disposable emails and phone numbers
- A referrer blocker or search engine obfuscator
- Password manager
- Trusted sites rater
If you have more than ONE of any of these, chances are you don’t need it.