[Chrome, Firefox] Block websites and ad networks from tracking you with Disconnect.me

2013-04-17_213812With semi-unique identifiers like IP address, the Internet was never intended to be a private place. However, privacy is a topmost priority for many web-goers. More specifically, many users are concerned about their surfing habits being tracked by websites and/or ad networks. Disconnect.me is looking to assist you in protecting your privacy. Let’s see if it is worth your time.

What is it and what does it do

Main Functionality

Disconnect.me is an add-on for Firefox and an extension for Chrome that aims to protect your privacy by, well, disconnecting you from things that track your online presence. It does this by detecting and blocking ad networks, website analytics, and social networking buttons on websites you visit. To be clear, Disconnect.me isn’t an ad-blocker per se (it is a privacy protector) but it does block ads.

Although Disconnect.me is not something that designed to increase website load times per se, a side effect of blocking ad works/analytics/social networking buttons is you will load pages faster than before. According to the developer of Disconnect.me, users experience 27% faster load speeds after installing Disconnect.me.

Take note Disconnect.me works on all platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.) that support regular Firefox add-ons and Chrome extensions.

Pros

  • Automatically detects and blocks ad works, website analytics, and social networking buttons
    • Developer claims Disconnect.me blocks “2,000+ third-party sites from tracking you”
  • Provides a list of detected ad networks, website analytics, and social networking buttons that were detected and blocked, giving you the ability to individually unblock them
  • Shows Facebook related, Google related (ads, analytics, Google+, etc.), and Twitter related content blocks as separate buttons at the top of the plugin drop-down menu, allowing you to easily unblock those content since they are popularly desired
  • Allows you to manually whitelist websites you don’t want to block anything on
  • Has the ability to force use of HTTPS on popular websites that support HTTPS
  • Has the ability to force use of HTTPS on search engines that support HTTPS
  • Improves (lowers) website load times because of everything it blocks
  • Provides an entertaining graph which tells you how much time you saved, how much bandwidth you saved, and how many websites you used HTTPS on by using Disconnect.me

Cons

  • Is only available for Chrome and Firefox, no other browsers are supported at this time
  • Does not properly block Google+ follow buttons (probably a bug)
    • Note: This bug is on Firefox only; Google+ follow buttons are properly blocked on Chrome)
  • Blocks ads from Google (i.e. AdSense ads) on websites but does not block ads on Google.com, for some reason (probably a bug)
    • Note: This bug is on both Firefox and Chrome
  • Secure HTTPS for popular websites is pretty limited; only supports facebook.com, facebook.de, facebook.fr, gmail.com, google.com, googlemail.com, linkedin.com, twitter.com, yahoo.com, youtube.com, which makes the feature pretty much useless
    • Note: HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox and Chrome is a much better plugin for forcing use of HTTPS on websites
  • Secure HTTPS search feature is not yet available — it is currently disabled and expected to be available “soon”
  • Has a “visualize page” feature which is supposed to “let you graph the requests on the page you’re on”. However, the button for this feature is always grayed out for me — I cannot use it.
  • This isn’t very fair criticism since Disconnect.me isn’t an ad-blocker, but it should be mentioned that Disconnect.me doesn’t allow for custom blocking of specific elements on pages like AdBlock Plus does.

Discussion

2013-04-17_213743Disconnect.me is an add-on for Firefox and Extension for Chrome that automatically detects and blocks ad networks, website analytics, and social networking buttons. Disconnect.me does not bill itself as an ad-blocker like AdBlock Plus; it blocks ad networks for the purpose of stopping them from tracking you. But a side effect of stopping tracking is that ads are also blocked.

Once you install Disconnect.me, it goes to work for you automatically detecting and blocking ad networks, website analytics, and social networking buttons for all websites you visit; there is no setup or anything required (aside from restarting your browser, in the case of Firefox). If you ever want to see what Disconnect.me is blocking, you can click the D button placed in your browser’s toolbar which opens Disconnect.me’s drop-down menu. This menu allows you to unblock specific content — including easy unblocking buttons for Facebook, Google, and Twitter related content — or to whitelist a website so nothing is blocked on it. This menu also allows you to enable/disable Disconnect.me’s secure HTTPS features.

Now I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is: should I ditch my ad-blocker for Disconnect.me. My response? Nope.

Disconnect.me is a very good plugin, yes. However, it isn’t without its bugs. I tested Disconnect.me on multiple websites, including dotTech and Google.com. On dotTech we run two ad networks (Google AdSense and AOL’s Advertising.com), have Facebook/Twitter/Google+ buttons, and use Google Analytics for website analytics. Disconnect.me properly detected and blocked both ad networks, Facebook and Twitter buttons, and Gogole Analytics… but it failed to block Google+ follow buttons in Firefox. Similarly, for some odd reason Disconnect.me does not block ads on Google.com although it blocks Google AdSense ads on other websites (this bug is on Firefox and Chrome).

So you shouldn’t ditch your ad blocker for Disconnect.me, at least not until Disconnect.me fixes the bug of not blocking ads on Google.com. But can you (should you) run an ad blocker and Disconnect.me at the same time? You can, but you probably shouldn’t.

Disconnect.me and ad blockers (like AdBlock Plus) have two different purposes: Disconnect.me wants to protect your privacy by stopping online tracking while ad blockers explicitly exists for the purpose of blocking ads. However, their purposes may differ but the end result is the same: the block of ads and ad networks and the stop of tracking by these ad networks. As such, running both side-by-side is almost pointless.

Conclusion and download link

I like Disconnect.me, I really do; it is a plugin focused on helping users protect their privacy. And it works, for the most part. However, until Disconnect.me is able to properly block ad networks on all websites (i.e. is able to properly block Google ads on Google.com), I cannot recommend it to anyone. My recommendation is to stick to your favorite ad-blocker; read dotTech’s guide on how to block ads on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera to learn more.

Price: Free

Version reviewed: 5.0.0

Supported OS: Any operating system that supports Firefox add-ons and Chrome extensions

Download size: Unknown

VirusTotal malware scan results: N/A

Is it portable? N/A

Disconnect.me homepage

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26 comments

  1. eMcE

    Disconnect has a big problem with other extension “PrivDog” from Comodo. They make conflicts and display warnings about “extension has a problem… blah, blah blah”. Especially on websites with many “facebook stuff”.

  2. Brian Kennish

    [@csachinbe] Thanks and hmm. It sounds like you either have an out-of-date version of Disconnect or are running into problems I haven’t heard before.

    Make sure you have the latest version (Tools > Add-ons). Disconnect should be at 3.1.2. If not, go to https://disconnect.me/ and hit *Get Disconnect* again.

    If you’re already up to date, would you mind emailing support[at]disconnect[dot]me?

  3. csachinbe

    [@Brian Kennish] I like this add-on. But after installing it in firefox, my firefox menu appears big. I mean all the options along with their shortcuts are getting displayed, which makes the menu appear very big. Any fix to this ?
    There is some compatibility problem with Bitdefender traffic light too. After I installed disconnect, I am not able to open settings option in bitdefender TL. It says invalid url. This is least of my problem. I want my nice old firefox menu

  4. csachinbe

    [@Brian Kennish] I like this add-on. But after installing it in firefox, my firefox menu appears big. I mean all the options along with their shortcuts are getting displayed, which makes the menu appear very big. Any fix to this ?
    There is some compatibility problem with Bitdefender traffic light too. After I installed disconnect, I am not able to open settings option in bitdefender TL. It says invalid url. This is least of my problem. I want my nice old firefox menu back.

  5. Brian Kennish

    [@Quick Brown Fox] All of the popular privacy, security, and ad-blocking extensions are compatible as far as I know. Although see below.

    [@Tom] The way Firefox works is that add-ons are allowed to handle requests in the order the add-ons are installed. Once an add-on blocks or redirects a request, no other add-ons see the request. I.e., DoNotTrackMe will appear to be doing nothing if you install Disconnect first.

  6. Brian Kennish

    [@AT] Disconnect makes webpages load 27% faster, Ghostery doesn’t. Disconnect filters more than 2,000 tracking sites, Ghostery doesn’t. Disconnect forces popular sites to encrypt the data you share with them, Ghostery doesn’t.

  7. Brian Kennish

    Disconnect makes webpages load 27% faster, Ghostery doesn’t. Disconnect filters more than 2,000 tracking sites, Ghostery doesn’t. Disconnect forces popular sites to encrypt the data you share with them, Ghostery doesn’t.

  8. Brian Kennish

    Brian, one of the developers of Disconnect, here. Thanks for checking out Disconnect 2! One of our users sent me here yesterday and I want to clear up a few things:

    > * Does not properly block Google+ follow buttons (probably a bug)
    >
    > Note: This bug is on Firefox only; Google+ follow buttons are
    > properly blocked on Chrome)

    Indeed. This was a bug, is now fixed! (v3.1.2 for Firefox, which is available at https://disconnect.me/ or as an autoupdate, has the patch.)

    > * Blocks ads from Google (i.e. AdSense ads) on websites but does not
    > block ads on Google.com, for some reason (probably a bug)
    >
    > Note: This bug is on both Firefox and Chrome

    This is by design, not a bug! As noted, Disconnect isn’t intended to be an ad blocker. The app never blocks first-party resources – e.g., Google content like AdSense on a Google site like google.com. The reason is Google can already track everything you do on google.com, so removing AdSense tracking wouldn’t have any privacy or security benefit.

    > * Has a “visualize page” feature which is supposed to “let you graph
    > the requests on the page you’re on”. However, the button for this
    > feature is always grayed out for me — I cannot use it.

    This feature is available in Chrome but not Firefox yet.

    Also, the screenshots above got me to spot an aliasing problem with our fonts on Windows. This problem is fixed now, too. :-)

  9. Tom

    [@Quick Brown Fox] I’ve been running both of those over the past few days on Firefox. AFAICT DNT is intercepting everything. Disconnect has not reported anything apart from “Content” calls (which you pretty much need running to display the web page). My initial results say that Disconnect adds nothing to DNT, apart from a another app to slow your page loads (and my AV and Malware apps do enough damage there).

  10. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    [@AT] Not much as far as I can tell — they both basically do the same thing of blocking ad networks from tracking. For those interested, see dotTech’s review on Ghostery: http://dottech.org/12145/firefox-add-on-know-who-is-watching-when-you-visit-a-website-and-optionally-block-them-with-ghostery/

    [@Mags] Welcome!

    [@Druid] I don’t think we’ve ever reviewed Albine’s stuff. I may take a look at that.

    [@Seamus McSeamus] Ditto.

    [@theProtector] I was actually thinking the same thing. I don’t know about the others, but Disconnect.me’s Private Policy seemingly states they don’t track anyone.

    [@throkr] Interesting. Thanks, I didn’t know that.

    [@Quick Brown Fox] I don’t think it should conflict but why would you want to run both?

  11. theProtector

    Adblock Plus, Ghostery, Priv, Disconnect, Self-Destructing Cookies, BetterPrivacy.

    I only hope none of them grabs any info on my browsing and sells it to data collectors and advertising companies. After all, they also need to make a living.

  12. Mags

    Thanks for the review. While I’m interested it this, like you, I’ll be sticking with Ad Block Plus for the time being.

    However, once they get the ad blocking feature to work properly I’d be interested it giving it a try.