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

2013-04-17_213812 [1]With 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

Cons

Discussion

2013-04-17_213743 [3]Disconnect.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 [4] 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 [5]