Who’s tracking you online? This app can tell you – and stop them

disconnect If you hate targeted ads, the Internet can be a very frustrating place. Online juggernauts like Twitter, Facebook, and Google keep developing partnerships with third-party sites that track your every mouse hover, all while developing native tracking programs. The goal: targeting you for ads with scary accuracy, and even if the objective is peddling wares and not peeping at your personal life, it’s at least invasive and at most a gross abuse of power. And the companies keep introducing new ways to bombard you, like how Facebook is testing targeted ads in its Graph Search and tightening its partnerships with third-party trackers. 

A browser app called Disconnect can minimize the amount of tracking that happens on your desktop. Developed by a team that includes a former Google programmer, Disconnect lets you see who follows you, and it allows you to sever the trail that Google, Facebook, Twitter and thousands of third-party tracking businesses use to follow you. Disconnect says it also makes loading Web pages 27 percent faster, and it also lets you encrypt your data to boost security. The Disconnect team explains how their program still allows for intentional sharing, but caps unintentional information disclosure: “We don’t prevent Facebook or Google from tracking stuff you intentionally share on their websites. We do prevent third-party tracking – tracking of data you’re unintentionally sharing with Facebook, Google, and thousands of other companies while you’re not on those company’s websites. For example, Facebook tracks the non-Facebook webpages you visit that contain Like buttons and other Facebook widgets, and Disconnect prevents that.” 

The most recent version, Disconnect 2, launched this week, and it offers a more robust roster of ad-fighting measures. It’s also pay-what-you-can, and lets you decide to split the amount of money between their organization and charities. Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 2.12.26 PM

We asked the Disconnect team why they chose the pay-what-you-can model, and they say that they want the technology to be available to everyone, not just people who can afford it. “We think pay-what-you-want has the potential to become a really disruptive business model. Still too early to draw conclusions on amount of contributions but we’re pleasantly surprised so far!” 

Right now Disconnect is only available for desktop, so we asked when it’s coming to mobile. No word yet, though the team says they do want to expand to more platforms. And the team is planning on debuting some premium features, though they are not sure what those will be yet – and they’d like to preserve the pay-what-you-can model as much as possible. 

And if you’re wondering which major website has the most nefarious tracking techniques, Casey Oppenheim, one of the founders, told us which one he’d block first: “Personally, its a tough choice between Facebook and Google but I’d go with Google because they just have so much of my private data – through search, analytics, and apps – all tied to my real-name account.” 

 Luckily, using Disconnect you don’t have to choose just one source to block, and since the team continues to develop the service, hopefully their efforts will keep up with the tracking technologies introduced by major web companies. 

Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?

T-Mobile OnePlus 6T phones get some improvements in update

The new OnePlus 6T continues OnePlus's tradition, coming with flagship power, camera performance, and the gorgeous design you want -- but for under $600. Here's everything you need to know about the OnePlus 6T.

T-Mobile-Sprint merger could close as early as first quarter of 2019, exec says

T-Mobile and Sprint are finally merging. After a few failed attempts, the two companies announced their merger at the start of 2018. Once it's complete, the new T-Mobile could be better positioned to take on the likes of Verizon and AT&T.
Home Theater

If you've got questions about Ultra HD Blu-ray, we've got answers

Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and players are a killer way to beef up your home theater. Here's everything you need to know about one of the most significant advances to hit home entertainment in years.
Social Media

Facebook opens pop-up stores at Macy’s, but they’re not selling the Portal

Facebook has opened pop-up stores at multiple Macy's, though they're not selling Facebook's new Portal device. Instead, they're showcasing small businesses and brands that are already popular on Facebook and Instagram.
Social Media

Facebook Messenger will soon let you delete sent messages

A feature coming to Facebook Messenger will let you delete a message for up to 10 minutes after you send it. The company promised the feature months ago and this week said it really is on its way ... "soon."
Social Media

Pinterest brings followed content front and center with full-width Pin format

Want to see Pinterest recommendations, or just Pins from followed users? Now Pinners can choose with a Pinterest Following feed update. The secondary feed eliminates recommendation and is (almost) chronological.
Smart Home

Facebook's Alexa-enabled video-calling devices begin shipping

Facebook's Portal devices are video smart speakers with Alexa voice assistants built in that allow you to make calls. The 15-inch Portal+ model features a pivoting camera that follows you around the room as you speak.
Social Media

Vine fans, your favorite video-looping app is coming back as Byte

Vine fans were left disappointed in 2017 when its owner, Twitter, pulled the plug on the video-looping app. But now one of its co-founders has promised that a new version of the app, called Byte, is coming soon.

Social media use increases depression and anxiety, experiment shows

A study has shown for the first time a causal link between social media use and lower rates of well-being. Students who limited their social media usage to 30 minutes a day showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out.
Social Media

Twitter boss hints that an edit button for tweets may finally be on its way

Twitter has been talking for years about launching an edit button for tweets, but it still hasn't landed. This week, company boss Jack Dorsey addressed the matter again, describing a quick-edit button as "achievable."
Social Media

‘Superwoman’ YouTuber Lilly Singh taking a break for her mental health

Claiming to be "mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted," popular YouTuber Lilly Singh has told her millions of fans she's taking a break from making videos in order to recuperate.
Social Media

Facebook is rolling out a Messenger ‘unsend’ feature, and here’s how to use it

Facebook is starting to roll out a "remove message" feature for its Messenger app. It lets you delete a message in a thread within 10 minutes of sending it, and replaces it with a note telling recipients that it's been removed.
Social Media

Going incognito: Here's how to appear offline on Facebook

How do you make sure your friends and family can't see if you're on Facebook, even if you are? Here, we'll show you how to turn off your active status on three different platforms, so you can browse Facebook without anyone knowing.