Block yourself from being tracked and profiled online  

This column is available in a weekly newsletter called IT Best Practices.  Click here to subscribe.  

I don't often write about technology products aimed at the home user, but this is one I definitely want for my home. Small offices might find this product useful as well, and there is an enterprise version in development, so it's worth me telling you about what's on my wish list this time of year.

I'm talking about eBlocker, a small device that protects your personal privacy when you are surfing the web. It's from a German engineering company of the same name, eBlocker.

eBlocker is designed to prevent web analytics companies and ad networks from tracking your every move and building a profile about you. Why should you care that you are being tracked? Let me give you a couple of examples of what can happen based on your regular web movements.

Many e-commerce merchants use dynamic pricing, which means that the prices of products the merchant sells are at least in part dependent on your user profile. (If you have used a Google service recently, there is a user profile on you, whether you know it or not.) Let's say that your profile shows that you own a luxury car, you are planning a vacation abroad, and you have a child applying to private colleges. Based on your profile, it's natural to conclude that you are relatively well to do. So when you visit an e-commerce site that sells electronics or other goods, the prices for the products are going to be as high as the merchant can reasonably set them. Your frugal next door neighbor might see much lower prices for the exact same products on that same e-commerce site.

Now suppose you want to apply for a home mortgage. Your online profile shows you like to visit online gambling sites. The lender could conclude that you have a gambling addiction and thus are at risk of not paying or being late on your mortgage payments. Instead of that nice low 2.25% rate you were hoping to score, the lender offers you a 5% rate.

And then there are the online ads that seem to stalk you from one website to another. In fact, they are stalking you because the advertisers know what your interests are, what you look at online, what you have bought in the past, and what they want you to buy now. What you do online across numerous websites is easily aggregated into a user profile that advertisers covet. They use your profile to relentlessly push tailored advertisements to you.

Have you noticed that some websites seem very slow to render their pages? They are probably full of ads and other content being delivered to you based on your profile. So much of that non-essential (at least in your opinion) content is coming down the pipe that it chews up the bandwidth you pay for. Might as well go get a cup of coffee while you wait for that news site to load.

eBlocker is designed to eliminate all of these problems. eBlocker is a small device with an Ethernet plug and a power supply. You plug it into an open Ethernet port in your home LAN. Once installed, eBlocker scans your network for active TCP/IP devices—PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets, etc. The patent-pending technology has all Internet-connected devices in your home talk to eBlocker before sending data out to the web.  eBlocker screens the data to determine if it is on a filter list, and if it is, it is blocked from going out.

What eBlocker is filtering for is information that web analytics and advertising companies are asking for, i.e., your profile information. Those companies send tracking pixels and ads to your browser and eBlocker doesn't let them get through. Your private information is not going back to these companies that request it, and you are not force-fed the personally tailored ads that companies want you to see. In addition to protecting your privacy, eBlocker says it can save up to 40% of the bandwidth that goes toward loading invasive content.

I should mention that eBlocker does not block all ads from getting through—only the ones where the ad server is attempting to profile you based on your personal information. eBlocker's objective is to preserve your privacy, not to disrupt the beneficial model of ad-supported content that so many companies depend upon. For example, many publications, including Network World, provide you with premium content at no cost to you. This is made possible through the sponsorship of advertisers. If all ads were to be blocked – and eBlocker doesn't do this – then the idea of free content might die, and this is something no one wants.

The eBlocker device in the home can be personalized for each user on the network. If you want to maximize your privacy settings but your spouse is OK with the stalking ads, you can each tune eBlocker to your preferences.

Another feature the eBlocker provides is the option to invoke the TOR network for browsing. Given that your IP address for a home-based device doesn't change very often, it's possible that websites can identify you by your IP address. By using the TOR network, your IP address is continuously changed and anonymized so that this means of identifying you is taken away from the websites you visit.

eBlocker for home use is going to be introduced at CES in January. A version of eBlocker for the enterprise is in development. Many individuals and small businesses have already purchased a pre-release version of eBlocker via Indiegogo.

The Internet has turned into a mass surveillance and profiling medium that is not in favor of regular users like you and me; instead it favors the advertising industry. eBlocker aims to give users full control over their own data in a simple way.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in