The internet is wide open. You’re free to surf where you want, view the media you want, and buy the things you want. But when you stare into the abyss, sometimes the abyss stares back. Advertisers and internet providers are free to watch you, analyze you, and turn you into a profile that they can use, or sell. Your personal life is their profit. If you’d rather retain control of your privacy, if you’d rather not become a product for sale, Avast AntiTrack can help. Trackers use high-tech fingerprinting techniques to follow you around; AntiTrack muddies those fingerprints and also performs more traditional anti-tracking tasks such as foiling tracking cookies.
Avast AntiTrack is the latest incarnation of a product we knew previously as TrackOFF, which Avast bought in 2019. TrackOFF’s site is still present on the web, but I couldn’t find any link to purchase the product. My company contacts confirm that AntiTrack includes all features from TrackOFF plus some enhancements added by Avast.
What Does Avast AntiTrack Cost?
Avast AntiTrack’s protection doesn’t come for free. At $49.95 per year, Avast AntiTrack costs a bit more than the $39 yearly subscription for privacy-focused Abine Blur Premium. Rather than foiling fingerprinters, Blur focuses on masking email addresses, credit cards, and even phone numbers, with bonus features that include a full (if basic) password manager.
There are few products that are directly comparable to AntiTrack. One such is iolo Privacy Guardian. In past years, this product (then called iolo Privacy Shield) was simply a licensed version of TrackOFF. However, a couple of years ago the company took development in house. The current product sells for $34.95 per year, which lets you install protection on all supported devices in your household.
AntiTrack’s basic subscription covers just one device, but for $10 more you can expand your AntiTrack subscription to cover 10 devices. Those devices need not be PCs, as AntiTrack can protect macOS and Android devices as well. Do note that features are limited on the other two platforms. Only Windows users get the complete feature set.
Getting Started With AntiTrack
AntiTrack’s main window background is a deep purple, with a slight gradient toward a lighter color. It focuses on a large fingerprint image rimmed by a circular privacy progress bar. At left of the print is a numeric representation of your privacy score, as well as a descriptor such as “Improving,” “Pretty good,” or “Perfect.” At right, it reports the minutes remaining until the next time AntiTrack randomizes your browser fingerprint. I’ll explain that feature in detail below.
A row of five icons spans the window below the fingerprint: Anti-tracking, Browser protection, Browser cleanup, Allowed websites, and System Privacy. A green check overlay on an icon means all is well. A red or yellow exclamation mark flags an area that needs attention. Naturally, you’ll want to get green checks across the board and raise your privacy score to the maximum. I’ll cover those five protection areas below, but first, let’s discuss browser fingerprinting.
Your Online Fingerprint
At its very simplest, your browser’s interaction with a website is like a conversation with Dory, the blue tang fish from Finding Nemo. Your browser sends an HTTP request, the website responds to the request, and then it immediately forgets you. Cookies serve as memory banks for your online interactions, but they can be misused to track you.
Privacy advocates and website trackers are locked in battle. The trackers create supercookies, self-repairing evercookies, and ever more persistent cookie-equivalents, and the privacy team finds ways to foil those. But all the cookie-like solutions must maintain a file on your PC. Browser fingerprinting eliminates the need for that saved file, making defense tough.
Instead of trying to manipulate anything on your computer, this technique makes use of the huge amount of information that your browser reveals to any website that asks. What extensions have you installed? Which fonts are available on this device? What is the precise version of the browser? The OS? Trackers now use algorithms that process this data into a fingerprint that uniquely identifies you.
One thing that’s not required to identify you with a unique fingerprint is your IP address. You can install the best VPN in the world and use it to spoof your IP address so that you appear to be in Timbuktu, but doing so doesn’t change your fingerprint. There are plenty of virtues to using a VPN, but it won’t fool this fingerprinting technique.
Since its inception in 2016, I’ve participated in a study on fingerprinting conducted by the computer science department at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). This study simply uses common fingerprinting techniques to periodically check each participant, and reports on a weekly basis how many different fingerprints they’ve found for you, and how many were unique, not matching any other participant. If you have any interest in this topic, I encourage you to click the link and sign up.
So far, the study has never once reported that one of my fingerprints matches any of the other thousands of participants. To put it another way, my fingerprint identifies me uniquely. It does change from time to time, but the unique identification lasts long enough for websites to take advantage of it. According to my historical data in the FAU study, I once had 263 days in a row with the same fingerprint.
Fooling the Fingerprinters
The basic concept behind Avast AntiTrack’s fingerprinting protection is simple. Fingerprinting algorithms gather reams and reams of data to boil down a fingerprint specific to your computer. But once every hour or so, Avast AntiTrack makes some changes to the data your browser reports—nothing that matters to your computer’s operations or your online activities, but enough to give you a completely different fingerprint.
The product’s main window displays a countdown to the next randomization event, and you can view a report showing all recent events. But does it work? That’s the big question.
After installing AntiTrack, I used the FAU research website to check my fingerprint. Not surprisingly, it reported that the fingerprint was both unique and never seen before. This site doesn’t offer any way to save a snapshot of the data feeding into the fingerprint, so I simply scraped that data from the page and saved it as a text file.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s CoverYourTracks page is another resource for checking your browser fingerprint. I was a bit surprised to find that the report said, “you are not protected against tracking.” It seems clear that this report doesn’t look for fingerprints that change over time. As with the FAU site, I scraped the detailed information and saved it as a text file.
Another resource for analyzing the data that goes into your fingerprint is the AmIUnique site. This site provides a very detailed and color-coded chart detailing what goes into your fingerprint and which items do the most to make your print unique. More importantly, it allows saving the fingerprint data into a standard JSON file.
When I had gathered available data from all three sites, I noticed that it was just five minutes until AntiTrack’s next randomization event. After that event, I gathered fingerprint details from all three sites again and used simple DIFF tools to compare them. In each case I found a dozen or so differences, and some of these included large data blocks that had changed. I let an hour elapse, working on other parts of this review. After the next randomization I checked again, verifying that the fingerprint data changed again.
This is in stark contrast to my similar testing on iolo Privacy Guardian. What I found there was a few small changes to the browser’s reported data, changes that, once made, remained static. My contacts at iolo explained that their aim is not to make your browser a constantly changing target, but rather to make it seem the same as many others. I prefer the active, visible fingerprint randomization that you get from AntiTrack.
Blocks More Than Fingerprinting
Protection against browser fingerprinting is AntiTrack’s big distinguishing feature, but that’s not all it does. Remember those five icons I mentioned on the main page? Each of them brings up another facet of this product’s privacy protection. If you want the very best privacy score, you must check out all five and deal with any issues.
You don’t have to do anything on the Anti-tracking page, except refrain from turning off protection. Other than the one big toggle, this page just displays a summary of recent tracker blocking activity, with a button to view a full report.
The full report displays the same activity charts, but with more detail. Specifically, you get a graph of trackers blocked in the last six months, by month, and a graph for the last week, by day. A panel lists the sites that have made the most tracking attempts, and another lists the most recent blocked attempts. Finally, you see a countdown to the next time AntiTrack will randomize your browser fingerprint plus a history of the latest randomization events.
You should also get a green checkmark with no effort on the Browser protection page, as AntiTrack automatically protects Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera. According to the online help, the program automatically installs browser extensions for Edge, Internet Explorer, and Opera, and walks you through the process of adding its extension to Chrome and Firefox. In practice, I found that AntiTrack only added the extension to Chrome, though all five browsers are marked as Protected on the Browser Protection page.
My Avast contact explained that the online help is outdated. Protection in the other four browsers does not require an extension anymore. “We have removed the dependency for the installation of extensions, as there were many complaints and negative feedback we had received from customers.” However, this also means that you have no way of seeing AntiTrack’s findings in the other browsers, and no way of interacting with it.
Just what does tracker blocking entail? The HTTP standard includes a header element that tells websites you don’t want them to track you, but it’s toothless. Sites can ignore it with impunity, and many do. Twitter dropped support for the Do Not Track header several years ago.
Products like IDX Privacy, Ghostery Midnight, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s free Privacy Badger take an active approach to Do Not Track, blocking all access by URLs associated with known trackers. Note that in addition to advertisers, these can include web analytics tools and social media buttons. Yes, when you visit a page that has a Facebook “like” button, Facebook knows you did, even if you don’t click the button!
Tracker blocking is one of the many privacy-related features of Steganos Privacy Suite. The toolbar installed with AVG AntiVirus Free includes a similar active Do Not Track feature, as do Kaspersky Internet Security, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, and Avira Free Security.
With AntiTrack, the Browser protection component provides this functionality. If you’re using Chrome, you get a clear view of what it’s doing. When you visit a website, it displays the number of trackers as an overlay on the extension’s toolbar button. Clicking the button opens a two-page window. The Trackers page gets you details on just what trackers are present. It also reports the number of attempts to track you based on your fingerprint. AntiTrack automatically randomizes your fingerprint once per hour, but you can click a button in the tracker list to change it immediately.
The extension also reports the number of cookies, including tracking cookies, present on the page, with an option to trust this site’s cookies. In addition, it lists eight categories of stored browser data that could be used to track you, with a button to clear any of them. Back on the extension’s Trackers page, you can click for a summary of recent history. This is a stripped-down version of the full activity report, which you can view by clicking a button at the bottom of the summary.
Again, all the interactive behavior I’ve described here is limited to Chrome. If you’re using Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Opera, you won’t see anything. You just have to assume AntiTrack is doing its job or dig into its tracking protection report to see what it did.
Clearing Browser Traces
AntiTrack builds in the ability to clear traces from the five supported browsers. Specifically, it can clear: Browsing history; Address bar history; Temporary internet files; Web cookies; Auto-fill data; Adobe Flash cookies; and Microsoft Silverlight cookies. Some of those may sound a bit odd. Microsoft has been steering people away from Silverlight since 2015 and will remove support from IE (the last browser supporting it) in Windows 11. Flash is similarly on the way out. But hey; if remnants of those antique technologies are gumming up your system, you surely want them gone.
I found a very similar scheduled browser cleanup system in iolo Privacy Guardian. However, iolo just vaguely mentions clearing cookies. It doesn’t offer the detailed breakdown that you get with AntiTrack.
Configuring your browsers for frequent cleanup goes a long way toward raising your privacy score. You can enable scheduled cleanup at intervals of one, three, six, and 12 hours, or choose daily or weekly cleanup. Setting all five browsers for scheduled cleaning once a week raised my score from 60% to 65%. Going back in and cranking each to hourly cleaning had an impressive effect—my score went up to 90%.
There’s also a big button to clear all browser data. Rather than taking immediate action, that button brings up the list of items for clearing, each with a brief explanation. All are checked for removal except Auto-fill data and Web cookies. For those two, it warns that clearing can wipe your browser-saved passwords. Make your selections, click the Clear Selected button, and AntiTrack gets busy with browser cleanup.
There’s a button labeled See Data next to each browser’s scheduling dropdown. Clicking it reveals the same list of eight data categories that you get when you clear data from all browsers. If you want to clear a subset of the data categories, you can make your choices and click Clear Selected. Note, though, that scheduled scans always clear everything except Auto-fill and Web cookies.
If you want the best privacy score, just leave this component alone. Every website that you exempt from protection nibbles a percent or two off your score. On the other hand, cookies do have the valid purpose of letting a website remember your preferences between and during visits. You may find that AntiTrack’s protection causes problems on some sites. In that case, go ahead and add them.
Using this list is a simple matter of entering the domain to be exempted and clicking Add. You can also choose from a list of almost 70 popular sites, but since the list is not in any visible order, you’re probably better off just typing in the site you want to exempt.
Not all privacy issues are browser related. Windows itself has many settings that aren’t fully protective by default. AntiTrack’s System Privacy protection lets you crank up privacy by changing collections of Windows settings.
The Privacy Shield component in iolo Privacy Guardian serves a similar function. It lists about 30 settings that can affect privacy but leaves the user to decide which ones to change. If you just kill ‘em all, you’ll find that you’ve disabled the camera, microphone, and Cortana, among other things.
Avira Free Security digs deep into this realm. Its Privacy Settings component lists over 140 settings in 17 categories. Better still, it lets you activate the best configuration by matching the advice of the company’s experts, either regular or enhanced.
As for AntiTrack’s handling of Windows security settings, it has just three toggles: Keep my computer activities private; Protect specific files and data; and Improve my computer’s login security. I toggled all three of them on without learning any details as to just what that action entailed.
The most visible effect of enabling system privacy was back on the main window. My privacy score zoomed to 100%! What a glorious feeling!
AntiTrack for Mac
On macOS, AntiTrack looks quite different. The main window is busier, with a left-rail menu offering Dashboard, Browsers, My Tracks, Reports, and Settings. Checking my notes, I find that it’s laid out very much like the old TrackOFF Basic. There’s still a big thumbprint image, with a circular progress bar and a privacy score. But below that is a button to improve your score (mine started at 52).
Clicking that button got me a list of what is and isn’t protected. AntiTrack automatically activated browser protection for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. I don’t have Opera on this test Mac, but it would have received protection as well. And since I had no entries in the cookie whitelist (corresponding to Allowed websites in Windows) my score didn’t take a hit.
That left Cookie Cleaning Schedule. As with Windows, setting all the browsers to a weekly schedule gave me a small score boost, up to 60. Going for hourly cleaning rang the bell, maxing my score to 100.
Fingerprint scrambling and browser trace cleaning are the extent of AntiTrack’s powers on macOS. It doesn’t include blocking non-fingerprint trackers or configuring the operating system for security the way it does on Windows.
You can download the AntiTrack app from the Play store, but you’ll need a license key to activate it. If you want to take advantage of the 7-day trial, you’ll need to sign up with your credit card.
AntiTrack doesn’t require the plethora of permissions that most full-scale antivirus and security apps do. You’ll have to give it access to your browsers, so it can block trackers. And it uses VPN technology to manage filtering out those unwanted connections. But that’s all.
On Android, AntiTrack performs fingerprint scrambling, just as on other platforms. There’s no countdown to the next scramble, just a simple report of when the last change occurred. As on the other platforms, it also blocks ad trackers and other trackers. But that’s the extent of its abilities. It doesn’t perform scheduled or on-demand clearing of browser traces, doesn’t install a browser extension, and doesn’t include anything parallel to the System Privacy check on Windows.
Given the limitations of the Android edition, I can’t recommend purchasing AntiTrack specifically for Android-based privacy. On the other hand, if you went for the 10-license subscription deal and you have some licenses left over, it certainly couldn’t hurt to extend AntiTrack to your Android devices.
What Would You Pay?
Avast AntiTrack won’t protect you from ransomware or keep viruses out of your system. That’s not its job. It has a knife-sharp focus on protecting your privacy. You can use it for mundane tasks like clearing cookies or deleting browser data, and you can tweak some unspecified Windows settings to enhance privacy. But the heart of the product is its ability to foil attempts to track you based on your browser fingerprint. By observation, it does the job. If you’re concerned about being tracked online, this is the tool for you.
Whether it’s worth the price is totally a matter of how much you value your online privacy. If that’s a high priority for you, you really should install Avast AntiTrack, and perhaps a VPN as well. Add the multi-faceted Abine Blur Premium (our Editors’ Choice winner in the eclectic privacy category) and you’ve got some serious defenses.
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