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Until yesterday, I was extremely happy with Ghostery -- the add-on used to show the location/address of a tracker, and include cookies in its blacklisting. However, with the recent v6.0 update, much of the technical details are gone. The Ghostery blog says a technical version will come out in a few months, but I fear this will be a premium service.

I also do not like how Ghostery now shows popups asking me to take surveys. This happened shortly before the 6.0 update.

I am looking for the following features in a tracker-blocker alternative to Ghostery:

  • Compatibility
  • Architecture
    • Free, no account required
    • Frequent updates (either app or database)
    • Optional: open source
  • Features
    • Block trackers: widgets, advertising, beacons, etc
    • Block cookies (same as above)
    • Show location/address of tracker
    • "Never, once, always" operations
    • Click-to-play trackers (typically widgets)
    • Prevent certain redirects (like dotomi)
    • Optional: additional information, like tracker provider contact info

So far, the possible alternatives I found were Disconnect.me and Lightbeam; however, these have not been updated in months and have unresolved GitHub issues.

  • NoScript does most of these, however it's probably not really what you're looking for. – JonasCz Feb 25 '16 at 9:08
  • @JonasCz Can you post an answer describing NoScript? I am interested in any solution really. I have heard of the add-on but have not used it myself. – onebree Feb 25 '16 at 15:10
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    I don't really have time to write an answer now, but there's plenty of information about it online. Essentially, it lets you selectively enable / disable JavaScript for specific domains. Quite effective, since most trackers rely on JavaScript. Doesn't do some of the things in your list though. – JonasCz Feb 25 '16 at 15:13
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    Also see on our sister-site for security topics: Is Ghostery safe to use? which additionally introduces Request Policy (Continued). – Izzy Mar 8 '16 at 12:38
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    NOTE: I got in contact with the Ghostery team on the issue for a few days now. Just got the note they are "making some adjustments based on user feedback so some things will change based upon the thoughts of our users". I cannot say how far that goes – but for those of you willing to give them a chance it might be an option to downgrade to Ghostery-5 and wait how things turn out (which is what I'm currently doing on most of my FF installations). – Izzy Mar 10 '16 at 16:11
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First, Ghostery is made by Ghostery Inc. an ad company. I'm sure their research is respectful but it is good to know about it at least.

I would try Privacy Badger made by EFF. The way it works is that it checks the requests (mainly third party ones) made by the browser and builds a blocklist based on what it detects. The upside of this is that it changes and adapts to any new tracking, the downside is that you need to visit the site and get tracked at least once before it starts working properly and it doesn't currently block the tracking made by the first-party, aka if you visit Google it will allow Google to track you on Google.com.

Their webpage covers more on how it compares, I quote:

Privacy Badger was born out of our desire to be able to recommend a single extension that would automatically analyze and block any tracker or ad that violated the principle of user consent; which could function well without any settings, knowledge, or configuration by the user; which is produced by an organization that is unambiguously working for its users rather than for advertisers; and which uses algorithmic methods to decide what is and isn't tracking.

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    Thank you. I was aware that Ghostery is owned by an ad company, but I thought it was initially open-sourced, and not owned by such a thing. Thank you for the suggestion -- I will check it out. I think EFF is doing great things. – onebree Feb 25 '16 at 15:09
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    @onebree I really admire the difficult stances and paths EFF takes to protect our rights! Did you try out the plugin? What did you think of it? It is a strange world where Adblock Plus is charging for letting ads through and the biggest antitracking plugin is made by an ad company :) – sur Feb 27 '16 at 21:31
  • I am testing out the extension now. I really like how simple it is to use, and actually don't mind that it learns as I browse. Marked answer for you! – onebree Feb 29 '16 at 16:42
  • @sur How does Privacy Badger compare to Ghostery in terms of configurability? If it e.g. detects Gravatar as a tracker, could I tell it to still permit Gravatar (that's what I had to do with Ghostery for SE sites ;)? Plus as it doesn't come with a filter list right away, ain't we a little "unprotected initially" (until if built up its database)? Using it in parallel for a while probaly makes not much sense, as it couldn't learn from what Ghostery already blocked ;) – Izzy Mar 8 '16 at 10:33
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    @sur Some interesting things were brought up today about PB and other alternatives. In the mean time, I am going to unmark you as best answer, as I am unsure yet. I know my personal stance on PB is that I like the interface, but dislike the fact I need to first encounter the tracker to block it in the future. – onebree Mar 8 '16 at 14:59
2

Short variant

  • you could simply downgrade to Ghostery 5 (on the Ghostery Addon page scroll down to "Version information" (click on it), scroll further down and click on "See complete version history", scroll down until "Version 5.4.11", hover your mouse over it, and tapp the "Add to Firefox" button). Though it's a "restartless addon", you might have to restart Firefox for the config page to become accessible again (I needed to). Don't forget to disable auto-updates for addons then, or Ghost-6 will be back pretty soon.
  • If you're already using an ad blocker like uBlock Origin, Adblock Plus, Adblock Edge or, in my case, Adguard, you might not even need Ghostery or a replacement for it. Simply activate the corresponding filter subscriptions (all four of them use EasyList and thus have them): "Fanboy's Annoyances", "Fanboy's Enhanced Tracking List", and "EasyPrivacy" should do.

Basically, the second choice has one big advantage and a few (hopefully minor) drawbacks:

  • Advantage: One addon less you need, provided you've got a compatible Ad blocker already, so less resources used (uBlock, Adguard – AFAICS even Adblock Plus or Adblock Edge should do) – plus, depending on your choice, it's even open-source (uBlock and Adguard are; Adblock Edge is discontinued, so don't use that for a fresh install).
  • Drawbacks: not as easy to use as Ghostery, and might "catch less" or "too much" (or both), depending on the lists you chose.

Full explanation

Being in the same boat with the Ghostery 6 update and thus looking around, I just stumbled upon an interesting discussion on Ghostery vs Connect.Me vs. uBlock, so I tried for myself:

  • enabled additional Ad blockers: "Fanboy's Annoyances", "Fanboy's Enhanced Tracking List"
  • browsed several sites to compare its findings with those from Ghostery

While findings were not identical, they were pretty close (note that, other than with Ghostery, the badge on Adguard's icon doesn't indicate the amount of sites blocked, but rather the amount of URLs):

  • It doesn't catch on Gravatar (which was the only rule I had to disable with Ghostery and no longer have to exclude now)
  • it blocks all kind of "social buttons" (FB/Twitter/G+/Delicious/Digg/Stumbleupon) – but unfortunately also RSS icons (due to the lists selected – we can override this, see below)
  • on some sites it might cause a little trouble (e.g. prevents login on Oracle Support/MOS; one can simply disable it for such domains, temporarily pause Adguard for the login, or adjust the rules)
  • a few of the culprits seem not covered (at the moment at least): AddThis, PollDaddy and Lockerz belong to the few I was able to identify. My fault: Investigating again it seems Adguard only "counts" the URLs it prevented from loading itself – in the cases mentioned, NoScript had already taken care of those trackers (just verified by disabling Ghostery and NoScript – et voila, they turned up in the list of URLs blocked by Adguard).

Adguard
Adguard Overlay (click for larger variant)

Like Ghostery, Adguard places a little icon which gets a "badge" on top whenever something was blocked – and which can be clicked for details. Central actions are available from the popup showing up then. Amongst others, clicking the little glass icon next to "Blocked" reveals what was loaded and what blocked (unfortunately one has to reload the page after opening that window).

Adguard Adguard
Adguard details on what was loaded/blocked w/ option to add exceptions (click images for larger variants)

Quite intuitive: Clicking a blocked URL (all read in above screenshot as I've limited the display to blocked URLs, as one can see by the corresponding checkbox) gives you details on the blocked element and the related rule, plus the option to add an exception. The latter looks quite limited to experienced users (only radio buttons, no edit possible) – but should be fine for not-so-advanced (or tech-savvy) folks. The former go to Adguard Settings afterwards (see first screenshot), scroll down a little, and edit their rule(s):

Adguard
Adguard: Edit a rule (click image for larger variant)

Note the (green) link in the screenshot: if you need help with the rule syntax, it's right there. Also note that I've changed my exception to look exactly like the rule that blocked the element, and just prefixed it with @@ to mark it as exception (same syntax as with Adblock Plus etc, by the way).


Being asked for in the comments, I cannot say I recommend AdGuard over uBlock or really compare the two against Ghostery (I didn't dig deep enough into them for that). I've just replaced Adblock Plus by Adguard a while ago (wanted open source without dubiosity, and save some resources ABP was hogging). Tried uBlock for a few days before that and had some issues (which in an afterthought might not have been uBlock's fault at all).

As for ABP/Adguard/uBlock, they all seem to use the same lists and thus should have the same effect. I've liked to combine one of them with Ghostery for the ease of having the latter working on the Trackers (just toggle a switch to keep the ones you wish) while being able to maintain my own supplemental rules with the former. So kicking out Ghostery might make maintenance a bit more work (having to apply manual exception rules instead of flipping a switch), but should have the same results on content while saving some resources (one addon less).

Do Adguard/uBlock block as much as Ghostery? Not out of the box, one has to enable the appropriate filters first as I've pointed out above. I'm currently running with these additions:

  • Fanboy's Annoyances
  • Fanboy's Enhanced Tracking List
  • EasyPrivacy

I don't remember which lists were enabled by default, and which others I've enabled manually back when I've switched to Adguard. On whether Ghostery (or some replacement) is still needed with those lists activated in Adguard/uBlock, please take a look at easy privacy and DNTM. Discusses this and similar combinations ;)

  • I appreciate this thorough answer. I am looking into it, and will reevaluate as needed. Privacy Badger seems to be doing alright, but is not the same as Ghostery, as mentioned before. I really appreciate your security concerns :-) – onebree Mar 8 '16 at 14:10
  • Do you recommend AdGuard over uBlock? Do either block as much as Ghostery out of the box? I was a little confused by your answer, as that was not fully clear. Instead of explaining the UI, can you just list the features, and a comparison with Ghostery (and maybe even uBlock?) – onebree Mar 8 '16 at 14:19
  • I overlooked the EasyList Privacy subscription (which I just enabled now). But what I miss with Adguard is the possibility to add list subscriptions it doesn't (yet) know of: follow the EasyList link I just gave, and you see a bunch of "supplementary" lists, featuring e.g. the "Tracking Protection List" maintained by Microsoft (edit: looking closer, they seem to be "split off" the main list). But that might be requested via a Github issue :) – Izzy Mar 8 '16 at 14:21

protected by Tom Mar 4 '16 at 22:33

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