Based on the same open source code as Chrome, the new Edge browser includes third-party trackers and new tracking protections that block many ads in strict settings. Testing has shown that 1 in 4 items are blocked by Google.
On January 15, 2020, Microsoft will release a fully revised Edge browser to the public. Browsers available for beta testing on all currently supported versions of Windows and MacOS include a feature called tracking prevention.
If that name sounds familiar, you can’t imagine. Microsoft added tracking protection to Internet Explorer 9 in 2011. I used a simple text file called Tracking Protection List (TLP) to allow or block third-party requests from specific domains.
This is the same as the basic principle of anti-tracking on the new Edge, but multiple trust protection lists replace the single TPL, making the implementation more useful and sophisticated. Last week I took a closer look at this feature. This post explains how it works and how it affects the search experience. And while I’m generally aimed at the online advertising and tracking industry, my tests show that the effect is most directly felt by one company called Google.
Microsoft has not yet published official documentation on this feature. As a result, the implementation has a “black box” feel. There is no clear way to customize the task or replace the built-in list with a third-party alternative.
If you’re running a new Edge, you can find Tracking Protection on the Edge Settings page under the Privacy and Services heading. The simple user interface includes an on-off switch for the function (1), three boxes for defining the tracker blocking range (2), and a place (3) for managing exceptions.
By default, Tracking Protection is turned on with the Balance setting selected. According to Microsoft, this setting does not interrupt the functionality of the website you are visiting and “blocks potentially harmful trackers and trackers from sites you haven’t visited.” When set to Strict, “Most trackers are blocked on all sites, but some websites may not work as expected.”
On Windows 10 test PCs, the antitrust list is located in the current user’s profile (% LocalAppData% \ Microsoft \ Edge Beta \ User Data \ Trust Protection Lists \) in a subfolder that identifies the version number of the current list. (This location will change when the new Edge is officially released.) There are various files that identify known trackers, and each list contains separate domain categories (ads, analytics, fingerprints, social, etc.). .
To see the impact of these settings on our own, we built a virtual machine running Windows 10, installed the latest release of the latest Edge from the beta channel, and chose 66 pages from various websites. My sample consisted mainly of mainstream news publishers and tech sites (including ZDNet and its sister site CNET) relying on ad support and using various third party analytics companies.
For testing, I loaded the full set of sample pages and manually visited each page to make sure that all the elements were loaded. Next, I checked the blocked tracker page, which lists each blocked domain and the number of blocked elements for that item.
The default setting blocked only one tracker in the stripe. If my sample set’s reputation falls a bit, it might be blocking dangerous sites like unauthorized cryptominers or malicious ads.
Using the default balance setting, Tracking Prevention blocked a total of 2,318 trackers or 35 on each page. Of these, 552 are from Google domains. It’s a mind that takes up 23.8% of the total. To figure this out, the second item in the list of blocked trackers was Facebook, which accounted for 3.8% of the total. (It’s worth noting that these results shouldn’t imply a conspiracy about Google. The fact that Google is at the top of the list of online trackers reflects business model and ubiquity. Google Analytics and Google AdSense are built in There are a huge number of web pages.)
What happens if I set a strict anti-tracking level to the highest level? Perhaps you do not expect. I was surprised at the results when I first tried this experiment. I ran all the tests once again with the same semi intuitive results.
You might think that strict criteria for blocking trackers block more items. Instead, the opposite was true.
With strict settings, Edge either blocked a total of 739 trackers, or about two-thirds less than the balance setting. The percentages of well-known tracking sources such as Google, Facebook, and Adobe are almost the same, but this list also included many analytics companies such as comScore, Chartbeat, and Nielsen. (If you run an Edge Dev build with strict anti-tracking on my main Windows 10 PC, Google is at the top of the list of blocked trackers than the total, 23% combined with Adobe, Facebook, Twitter, and comScore. Microsoft is also on this list with about 1.7% of items blocked in the top 11).
Why is there a difference? In balancing settings, Edge blocks storage access to many tracker categories. That means that domain can load content but not set or retrieve cookies. Small third-party domain groups can’t load resources.
In contrast, a strict setup completely blocks elements such as pixels, iframes, and script tracking from loading and fetching other resources, which blocks storage access and resource loading for large sets of categories.
In fact, the difference is noticeable. Balance settings include a significant number of ads and social widgets. With strict settings, most third-party ads, including large banner ads that push down content in an annoying way, completely disappear and the page loads much faster.
You can see which trackers are blocked for specific pages by clicking the lock icon to the left of the address. This action displays a drop down menu like the one shown here, and you can unblock the tracker for that page or expand the list to see where the blocked tracker came from.
The effect of the strict setting is very similar to what you see in the ad blocking extension. In testing, this setting increased the likelihood that the page would show an ‘ad blocker’ message. It can also break some aspects of the page, such as the ability to display comments or login flows from third-party sites.
The user experience shown here will be seen by the public when Microsoft starts a slow process of opening a stable channel for a new Edge in January and replacing the old one. Two questions remain. Does Microsoft provide more granular control for end users who want to adjust these settings? For example, can I whitelist specific domains from my tracking list without turning off tracking protection on the whole site? Can end users and third party developers extend and customize this feature?