How to Remove Tracking URLs
As you may know, websites can track you in different ways. That’s why a single search for furniture can result in months and months of online ads for chairs, tables and shelves.
What you might not know is that third parties can track you using the address or URL of the website you’re visiting: it’s all about those bits of numbers and seemingly random extra characters attached to otherwise simple addresses ending in .com, for example.
But as with other types of trackers, there are ways to block URL-based ones and protect your privacy online. As always with digital security, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with and what steps you can take to protect yourself from spies.
How tracking URLs work
Try searching for something you want to buy on Google, then open one of the ads that appear at the top of the results page. Chances are that the web address you just clicked on has a very long string of numbers and letters attached to the end. Strip all that extra information from the URL, and it will probably still work.
This is a tracking URL. It tells the site you’re visiting that you’re from Google and can also add some additional information, including how long you spend on a site and which links you clicked on next. . Website owners (and retailers in particular) love these trackers because they allow them to see how well ad campaigns or newsletter promotions are performing.
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From a privacy perspective, this is data that you don’t necessarily want to share with retailers and web marketing companies. You may want to keep a lower profile when visiting a particular site, and if so, be aware that there are ways to block these tracking URLs from tracking you.
Remember, this is just one way for websites and marketing companies to monitor what you’re doing online. Therefore, blocking tracking URLs won’t suddenly prevent you from seeing targeted ads or turn you into some kind of online ghost. You should use the techniques we discuss in this article in combination with other ways to protect your privacy on the web.
Stop tracking URLs in Firefox
Hats off to Mozilla, which introduced automatic blocking of tracking URLs in its browser. It’s part of a larger suite of tools to limit the amount of data websites can collect about you, and once you’ve enabled the feature, you’ll find Firefox strips extra information from the URLs you visit. . The company calls it Query Parameter Stripping.
To enable this feature, make sure you’re on the latest version of Firefox, click the menu button (three horizontal lines, top right), then Settings. Below Privacy and Securityselect strict as a setting for Enhanced Tracking Protectionto protect you from tracking URLs as well as all other tracking methods listed there.
The only place it won’t work is when you’re in private mode. These windows have their own protections to limit online tracking, and the browser should not remember any of these activities after it is closed. However, to be even more careful, you can type “about: setup” in the address bar and change the privacy.query_stripping.enabled.pbmode value to “true” by double-clicking on it. This also allows query parameters to be removed in private windows.
Keep in mind that the Strict setting for Enhanced Tracking Protection takes an aggressive approach to online privacy, which means it may break some features you’re used to on some sites. These include the ability for sites to hold items in a virtual shopping cart while you shop, for example. If you’re having trouble with a site, click Handle exceptions to give a website a pass from Firefox’s privacy measures.
Use of browser extensions
As of this writing, browsers other than Firefox do not offer the built-in ability to suppress tracking URLs. If you want to fight these trackers in another browser, you’ll need to find a third-party extension to do the job for you. The good news is that there are several to choose from.
If you use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, then the free and aptly named ClearURLs is one of the best options. The extension is very simple to use, and by clicking on its icon in the toolbar, you can enable or disable URL stripping. If you want, you can also log the changes it makes and collect statistics on how many URLs it changes.
[Related: How to stop websites from tracking you]
Tracking Token Stripper is another alternative which is also free and will remove all parts of a URL that your browser doesn’t actually need to get you where you need to go. Once you install it in Chrome or Edge, the extension will automatically clean up tracking URLs without you having to do anything else. This add-on is so simple that there are no options you can mess with.
For those of you on Safari, try Clean up links. Once you’ve downloaded the extension, open your Downloads folder and double-click the file, then choose Open in Safari Extensions Preferences from the dialog box that appears. You can also go to Safari, Preferencesand Extensions. Make sure to enable both Clean Link Content Blocker and Clean extension links to remove tracking URLs in Apple’s web browser.