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Blocking Google click tracking

NOTICE:
This extension is no longer supported.

The extension does not work well with recent versions of Google search. The privacy impact of the extension is questionable because it enables search query tracking. But most of all: trying to fix the problems in Google search is futile; the correct solution is to switch to a better search engine.

I recommend users of Google search to switch to DuckDuckGo instead. It will be better for your privacy as well as your mental health.

Block Google Redirection is an (obsolete) Firefox extension which changes the links in Google search results to point directly to the real target pages.

By default, Google tracks your clicks on search results to collect information about search behaviour. This extension bypasses Google's link tracking to take your browser directly to the real target page. This is faster, protects you privacy and supports copy-pasting of links.

Installing BlockGoogleRedir

If you are using Firefox 10 or later, you can install the extension by clicking the download button below. (Firefox will warn that the author of the extension is unknown and that it may be unsafe to install it.)

Package File
BlockGoogleRedir 0.6 for Firefox 26 and later BlockGoogleRedir_0.6.xpi
BlockGoogleRedir 0.5 for Firefox 10 and later BlockGoogleRedir_0.5.xpi
Source code for BlockGoogleRedir 0.6 BlockGoogleRedir_ff_0.6.zip
Source code for BlockGoogleRedir 0.5 BlockGoogleRedir_ff_0.5.zip
BlockGoogleRedir 0.3 for Google Chrome BlockGoogleRedir_0.3.crx

Note that Firefox extensions can access anything you do on the Internet. You should never install an extension unless you know it can be trusted. When you are not sure, download the source code of the extension to check that it plays fair and build your own XPI file.

This extension also used to be available for Google Chrome. However Chrome no longer allows third-party extensions.

Using BlockGoogleRedir

When BlockGoogleRedir is enabled, it automatically changes the links on Google search result pages. Any link to the click tracking system is replaced by a link that points directly to the target page. Javascript event handlers are disabled for the link; otherwise Google will sneak in and put the click tracking back at the moment you click on it.

To indicate that click tracking has been bypassed, the extension changes the color of the link from deep blue to greenish blue.

Why click tracking is bad

  • Click tracking is slow. When you click on a tracked search result, your web browser first reports the click to a Google server before it starts to load the real target page. This extra step takes time, sometimes several seconds.
  • It is often useful to grab the URL of a result link by right-clicking on the link and choosing copy link location. You can then easily paste the URL in a document or a script or another application. Click tracking is not compatible with this technique: instead of the real target URL, you would get Google's tracking URL. But the extension makes it work again.
  • Web browsers use a different color to show that a link has already been visited. This does not always work correctly with click tracking because the browser does not recognize the tracking links.
  • Click tracking invades your privacy. If Google knows which search results you actually visit, they learn a lot more about you than if they just see your search queries. There is no way to tell what they will do with that information or whether it will be used against you.
  • Click tracking takes control away from the user. If the search result page is just a list of normal links to actual target pages, the user has complete freedom in the way he uses these links. Clicking, copy-pasting or saving links; it would all work transparently with any web browser, with or without Javascript, on any type of computer. But Google now changes the nature of the search result page from a document to an application, taking control of the browser and making it do all kinds of extra stuff. This extra stuff is not transparent and is controlled by Google (or their advertisers).

Technical details

This is what the HTML code of a Google search result looks like. Note that the link points to a tracking service at Google, instead of to the actual target page:

<h3 class="r"> <a href="url?q=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web&sa=U&ei=J1DCUOPdOueb1AXrr4 ... "> <b>World Wide Web</b> - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia </a> </h3>

If Javascript is enabled, Google uses a different tracking method. In this case, the link initially appears to point to the real target page, but a Javascript event handler is added to quickly modify the link to point to the tracking service at the moment you click on it. This is even worse because it makes the web browser lie to its user. When the user looks at the link, the status bar in the browser promises to go straight to Wikipedia. But as soon as the user actually clicks on the link, Google jumps in and diverts the web browser to a different location.

<h3 class="r"> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web" class="l" onmousedown="return rwt(this,'','','','1','AFQjCNFGniJQ1KmL7S7ejgNsFM ... "> <em>World Wide Web</em> - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia </a> </h3>

In both cases, BlockGoogleRedir rewrites the tracked link into something which looks like the following. Modified links have a slightly different color via class="blockgr". Unfortunately rel="noreferrer" does not have any effect (known bug in Firefox).

<h3 class="r"> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web" class="blockgr l" rel="noreferrer"> <em>World Wide Web</em> - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia </a> </h3>