Updated Anti-Tracking Software Highlights Changes in Tracking Technology

By Cameron Scott 

online privacy, securityEarlier this week, Abine launched a substantially updated version of its respected anti-tracker, DoNotTrackPlus. The upgrade, DoNotTrackMe, fends off 200 companies using 630 tracking technologies.

The company has given up in the update on participating in ad companies’ self-regulatory approach of offering do-not-track cookies, concluding that the method further confuses Web users and doesn’t work anyway.

Abine must continue to refine its assault on tracking as technology advances and regulatory efforts fall apart. The company and a few others like it are up against an elaborate ecosystem of advertising companies who work with and against each other to serve up detailed user profiles to merchants seeking to get the most from their advertising dollars.

“We’re blocking 50 new companies specifically, but each company can have multiple ways that they track you,” said Andy Sudbury, Abine’s chief technical officer.

In order to continue to block the bulk of the tracking efforts in use, Abine runs browsers cleaned of all user history and cookies through thousands of websites. Staffers then look at the list of sites the browser has contacted as well as cookies or anything saved using HTML5’s expanded storage options to determine which behaviors might constitute tracking. They then build commands into their browser add-on that tells the software not to comply with those requests. The process is akin to the creation of antivirus software that constantly adds websites and programs to a black list.

As consumers become more aware that cookies can invade their privacy, advertising companies have moved to web beacons, Flash cookies and files stored locally in the browser using HTML5.

Much innovation in tracking is happening on mobile browsers, Sudbury said, because mobile Web traffic goes through centralized hubs and doesn’t have an IP address that can essentially identify the user. Mobile browsers have also lost access to the phone’s unique ID number. Rather than lose insight into user behavior, companies have developed workarounds.

“There’s a lot more things that websites can do now, but that also means that people who are highly motivated financially to track you have more things that they can do as well. It becomes harder for the average user to know what to do about it,” Sudbury said.

DoNotTrackMe works with Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE browsers.