Free Anti-Tracking Tool Meets Growing Demand for Private Browsing
By Adam Dickter / Top Tech News. Updated February 09, 2012.
With concern about tracking and malware on the rise, a Boston-based company that creates privacy tools is offering a free program it says will keep your browsing out of the public domain.
The company, Abine, says its Do Not Track Plus browser tool will not only fend off advertisers who want to monitor your shopping habits and show you which companies and technologies are spying on you on the various sites you visit, but also quadruple your browser speed.
"Online tracking is a very real thing, even though you can't see it," said Abine in a company blog post announcing the tool Thursday.
What's the Catch?
Abine is upfront about its intentions in offering the product free.
"We have a 'freemium' model, meaning that we offer a free base service (DNT+) and separate paid upgrades, such as our DeleteMe service that removes our customers' personal information from public Web sites," the company writes. "We are also working on another software offering called PrivacySuite that's currently in beta, but it will have premium upgradeable features like forwarded e-mails and phone numbers."
Once they have built up a base of free users, Abine hopes that at least 1 percent to 2 percent will upgrade to premium services down the road, making the undertaking worthwhile. The basic model of Do Not Track Plus, however, will always remain free, Abine promises.
For $99 a year, the DeleteMe service regularly checks people-search databases to remove customers' names, sending regular reports. Abine also has apps coming soon that allow a single log-in to sites with one click and to protect e-mail and phone numbers by "automatically generating unique forwarding contact info for each site."
Abine is not alone in offering free privacy tools. Yahoo! offers Anti-Spy, a spyware and malware removal program by Computer Associates, as part of its browser toolbar. Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox have each added new privacy features in recent updates.
Do Not Track Plus is available for download from www.abine.com . A guided tour video is also available.
Is Resistance Futile?
Companies that track aren't necessarily concerned about the relatively small number of people using anti-tracking tools at this point, said Jules Polonetsky, co-chairman and director of the Future of Privacy Forum.
"Most companies are fine with those who don't want to be tracked and with privacy-sensitive users taking steps," Polonetsky said. "Should there one day be a time when a majority of people are using these tools they may have to find an alternative revenue stream, like charging people for access to sites or giving people an incentive to be tracked and allowing them to use their data."
With privacy issues dominating headlines lately, Polonetsky said, "we are seeing an increasing number of these tools on the market, such as Ghostery and Privacy Choice, and venture capitalists are seeing an uptick in interest in tools that give users more control over their data."