Too Commercial Feeling For Me Rated 3 out of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about TrackerBlock and PrivacyChoice, the organization that makes it.

I appreciate that from it I learned about HTML5 storage and that it allows removal of this type of information (although it seems like it can't be set to be automatic like Better Privacy does with LSOs--it's hard to tell). On the other hand, I'm skeptical of a privacy addon that seems to require me to set certain cookies to block tracking cookies. I just want to block the tracking. And I wonder in the future how those cookies themselves might be used/abused (even if this is not the initial intention). Would I notice? I'm not sure I want to have to just assume PrivacyChoice will always remain on the up and up.

PrivacyChoice itself seems like one of those organizations that's trying to bridge the divide between users who want privacy and businesses that don't want to be completely shut out. So it provides good tools to users, but also is working with websites, perhaps in the hope of mitigating the effect of people completely blocking any and all tracking in the first place. Perhaps allowing for a sort of softer-gentler tracking in a more privacy conscious world (but tracking nonetheless). Honestly it's really hard to tell how PrivacyChoice makes it's money and what its interests really are, from their website. The ".org" domain name itself seems to hide that this must be a commercial enterprise (which I never like when ".org" is used that way). In any case, there is certainly at least an apparent conflict of interest when an organization is working both for users who want to avoid tracking and companies that want to do at least some limited tracking. And I imagine it's the people who are paying the bills that will win out, ultimately, in such a conflict of interest. As another review notes, the whole thing has a commerical feel to it. And if you search around you can see that the founder and CEO of PrivacyChoice is definitely not a privacy advocate, but a serious business person.

In the end, I guess I prefer Better Privacy and I discovered the addon "Foundstone HTML5 Local Storage Explorer," which lets me manually view and delete HTML5 local storage.

* * *

Response to Reply below:

I have no doubt that TrackerBlock is a good tool that provides some degree of privacy from tracking and puts a lot of control in the hands of the user. In fact, I'll change my rating from two to three stars, to reflect this.

But I really don't buy the argument that you can be working for websites and developers with their own privacy tools (which has to include their decisions about how much and what they're going to track) and be working for users, without having a conflict of interest.

Further, when you write in your response to me about your products, which include "many other free privacy tools for websites and developers," that is a very vague statement that I think occludes the sort of softer gentler tracking tactics that I mention in my initial review. This is also reflected in the sometimes difficult to parse language on the PrivacyChoice website. "Privacy tools" here appears to be used to describe tools that websites and developers use to determine how they're going to both inform users, but also track users (to at least some degree). Just as Google's new "privacy policy" has been released to great fanfare, about how it will make everything simpler for users, but is actually a statement of how Google is going to track people in an even more centralized and potentially invidious manner. This is very different from "privacy tools" for users to protect their own privacy. So the word "privacy" appears here to be used in two very different manners: the privacy policies and technologies of websites and developers (that of course includes not just how they inform you about what they track, but how much and in what manner they are going to track you) and the privacy technologies available to users to limit or block websites and developers (not necessarily only in ways that they accept). So this double use of the word "privacy" elides some important distinctions and seems to me to be misleading to potential users of TrackerBlock.

In the end, as is always the case with conflicts of interest, if you're working for both sides, there's a conflict of interest. This is by definition what a conflict of interest is. Being relatively transparent about it or saying "trust us" (even if you've been trustworthy so far) does not mean there is no conflict of interest.

In the case of TrackerBlock and the other tools provided by PrivacyChoice to users, the potential problem I see is not that PrivacyChoice is (or may some day be) secretly tracking people somehow. The problem is that it encourages users to use a privacy tool that potentially reduces, rather than eliminates the various ways they may be tracked. In turn, they may end up not adopting more effective tools, that are less palatable to developers and websites. All this because it's claimed to be more convenient (the carrot hung in front of the user). This is why I call it a soft gentler tracking. And this is why the "our code is open" argument is beside the point. It's a distraction from a broader strategy to get people not to use other more extreme privacy tools (a strategy which I think will become more and more common as websites have to contend with a more privacy conscious user base). Whether or not this is exactly what PrivacyChoice is up to, I don't know. But that's the sense I get from trying to read between the lines of the information provided on its website.

And I still take issue with the use of a ".org" domain name for a commercial business. I don't see how that is not intended to obfuscate to users the nature of PrivacyChoice as a business.

This review is for a previous version of the add-on (2.1.1-signed). 

No mysteries here

I understand that you need to trust add-on authors, which is why we make these things transparent:

1. Our code is open, and you can always check which companies are blocked. You can see that it's working by checking your own cookies to see what we block. If we ever compromised operation of the add-on, it would be obvious to see.

2. We offer permanent opt-out cookies as an option for the user because so many people asked for it. It sounds like the reviewer only wants blocking, and that's exactly what you can have.

3. This addon controls both HTML5 local storage and Flash cookies when attempted by tracking companies. The problem with generic deletion of all Flash and HTML5 objects is that those can be useful when not used by tracking companies. Because we keep a master domain list of trackers, you can delete and block them selectively, which makes the rest of your web experience better.

4. As we make it clear in our FAQ, we license our database for companies making other privacy applications, which allows us to support the best curated tracker list available, as well as many other free privacy tools for websites and developers. Everything we do is about making privacy easier, which we've done now for nearly 2 million people, without any conflict of interest.