When you browse the web, you will come across different types of URLs. Some are regular, some are really long with weird symbols, others use link shortening services, etc.
It’s not always easy to tell if a URL can track you. If it has words like source or referral, or something similar, you can bet it is tracking your visit, at least to determine the source which you visited from, or if you have visited the site previously.
Allow me to quote the example used by the developers, https://example.com?source=thisIstheSiteIvisitedBefore. See the latter half of that address? That’s the unclean part of the URL.
That’s not very privacy friendly, is it? While ad-blockers like Ublock Origin can prevent ad-based tracking services or malicious scripts, you may need an extra layer of security like the one offered by ClearURLs to further protect your privacy. It is an extension that is available for Firefox and Chrome officially. Please note that it may also work in other Firefox or Chromium-based web browsers, but that is not something that I tested.
Tip: Check out other privacy add-ons that we reviewed in the past: Firefox users may want to check out Behavioral Keyboard Privacy, Chrome users Keyboard Privacy. Make sure you check out our best of Firefox add-ons and best of Chrome extensions listings.
How does ClearURLs work?
ClearURLs is an open source project. It has “rules” which the add-on uses to detect and delete unwanted content from the URL resulting in a clean URL. You don’t have to do anything once you have installed the add-on; the extension works independently. According to the official page there are a total of 130 rules used by ClearURLs, to protect you from those annoying tracking URLs.
When you install ClearURLs, it adds a trash can icon to the toolbar of your browser. Clicking this displays the interface of the add-on.
There are 4 toggle-able options in the extension
- Filter – This enables or disables the primary function of the add-on, i.e., the URL cleaning.
- Logging – By default, this is disabled. But you can enable it to store a log of the cleaned up URLs, locally on your computer.
- Badges – Shows the number of URLs that were cleaned.
- Statistics – Disable/Enable the statistics function.
ClearURL statistics displays the number of elements that were found, the number of elements which the add-on blocked, and the total percentage of blocked elements. It’s merely for your analysis. You can also reset the statistics, and update the rules-status from the extension’s UI.
See that screenshot of the interface? That was the number of elements the add-on blocked in a 15-20-minute session, which consisted of a single search. Just imagine how many elements could be tracking you a day.
Click on the wrench icon in the UI, and a new tab opens in the browser. This is the ClearURLs Cleaning tool. It has two fields, the top one is where you can paste URLs which contain tracking information. The cleaned version of the URL will be displayed in the field below, which you can copy it from and visit without being tracked.
It also works with links that you copied from Google Search results. Instead of the really long, garbage URL, you get the actual link. Take a look at this example.
Tip: You can paste one URL per line, and paste several URLs at the same time.
ClearURLs is a privacy add-on for Firefox and Chrome that strips tracking parts of URLs from links automatically so that they don’t fire when you activate them.
Now You: which privacy extensions do you use and why?
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