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Disconnect: a browser extension that blocks third-party tracking in real time

You may remember a Chrome extension that popped up back in October called Facebook Disconnect, written by a Google engineer named Brian Kennish. Well, he's now parted ways with the big G, and he's got a new extension -- simply called Disconnect. This time around, Kennish isn't just targeting Facebook, but all major collectors of personal browsing data -- like Digg, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, and even Google.

The extension basically blocks cookies and requests made by third parties as the page loads, but it's unique in that it actually shows you how many are blocked, in real time and also prevents "personalization" tracking by search engines. You can choose to unblock certain collectors by clicking the Disconnect badge at any time. It's not an adblock, it just blocks third-party data-collection, and though the list of blocked companies is relatively short right now, Kennish plans to add more over time.

While the effects of the extension will be mostly transparent, users might notice that certain sites (ahem, TechCrunch and Mashable) will load much faster. Facebook and Digg widgets will not be able to send any information about you or your system back to company servers, either. Another use for Disconnect is to sanitize your own footprint from Google Search. When active, your searches will be completely sterile and depersonalized, but you can still use your regular Google services like Gmail without issues. Users who like their searches personalized simply need to unblock Google in the Disconnect badge while on the Search page.

A note to international readers: At this point, the search depersonalization function only works for Google.com, so .co.uk and .de users will have to wait a bit longer if this is what they're looking for.

Unfortunately, things like bookmarklets don't get off so easy. While the extension doesn't affect my being logged into Gmail, it does stop me from being able to add pages to Google Reader -- because the bookmarklet is treated like a blocked request. I'm sure the only reason my other bookmarklets are still working, like those from Svpply or Amazon, is simply because those aren't companies which are on the blocklist. The extension is, however, in its early stages, and Kennish has made it clear that there's plenty more tweaking to be done (and that he's aware of the problem with Reader and bookmarklets). Edit: Brian got back to us, and it looks like the bookmarklet problems for both Google and Yahoo! were fixed in an update.

The extension is currently only available for Chrome-based browsers, but versions for Safari and Firefox are both expected soon. The really funny part about all this is that Kennish made it a point to mention Rockmelt alongside Chrome on the extension's homepage. Maybe it's just me, but there's something inherently ironic about installing an extension called Disconnect on a "social browser."

Tags: brian kennish, BrianKennish, browser, chrome, chrome extension, cookies, digg, extensions, firefox, google, privacy, rockmelt, safari, security, web

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