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Interview with Noah Swartz of Privacy Badger

by Donald Robertson Contributions Published on Sep 29, 2015 05:00 PM
This community interview highlights the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Privacy Badger browser add-on.

We conducted an email-based interview with Noah Swartz of Privacy Badger. Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that detects and blocks third party tracking. If Privacy Badger notices a third party site that it thinks is attempting to track your browsing around the web it blocks it and prevents it from writing or reading cookies and other identifying information about your browser. Additionally Privacy Badger works with EFF's newly drafted Do Not Track policy which aims to make user opt-out of online tracking a reality.

Noah Swartz is a Staff Technologist at EFF and works on Privacy Badger.

What inspired the creation of Privacy Badger?

Online tracking has become a pervasive and invisible reality of Web browsing. Users get a sense that it's happening when they're shown targeted ads, but that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the data collected about them is being used.

Why is a browser plug-in like Privacy Badger so necessary?

Advertisers and other online trackers have proposed to regulate themselves by allowing users to 'opt-out' of target ads. Unfortunately this 'opt-out' does nothing to stop the collection of user data. We felt that there had to be a stronger way for users to protect their browsing data, and a lever by which to push trackers into a place of respect for user privacy.

What features do you think really sets Privacy Badger apart from other privacy protecting software?

Privacy Badger doesn't use an explicit blacklist to decide what and what not to block. Instead it builds up its own list of what to block based on what looks like it's tracking you as you browse. This means that not only can advertisers not try to cajole EFF into making their domains exempt from being blocked by privacy badger, it also means that Privacy Badger will catch trackers that haven't been identified by other ad blocker's blacklists. Additionally Privacy Badger works in tandem with EFFs new Do Not Track policy, which we hope to see online tracers adopt as a way to respect user opt out.

How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to Privacy Badger?

Technical users are encouraged to contribute code. The repositories for the Firefox and Chrome versions are on github ( & and have many open bugs and feature requests that we'd love help with. Non-technical users are encouraged to use Privacy Badger and let us know about any issues they have. This includes things like visual nitpicks, broken sites, or platform specific bugs. Also we're working to translate Privacy Badger into many different languages, we'd welcome anyone able to help with that.

What's the next big thing for Privacy Badger?

We're looking into how to spot more types of tracking. Currently Privacy Badger checks for text cookies, HTML5 local storage cookies, and canvas finger printing. But there are many other ways in which your browser can be identified, we'd like to prevent those as well. Additionally there are other browsers we don't support, as well as no mobile browsers supported. Since the way people interact with the Web is becoming more through mobile platforms we think it's an important next step.

For more tools and resources on protecting your privacy, please check out our campaign against surveillance

Enjoy this interview? Check out our Licensing and Compliance Lab's interview series. In our last interview, we featured Joël Krähemann, maintainer of Advanced GTK+ Sequencer

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