I’m not a big browser extension or plugin fan. When I go to someone’s computer and I see the Yahoo, ASK, and Google tool bars installed I cringe, especially when I know the owner of the computer has no idea why they are there or where they came from. “You mean that’s not part of the browser?”
Yesterday, as I was working on some HTML development at work I loaded a local HTML file and noticed that one of my extensions, NoScript (which I highly recommend to prevent scripts, especially “drive by viruses” from running in your browser), mentioned superfish.com was being blocked.
Odd, considering I was browsing “file:///C:/test.html” which had no scripts, let alone any that would be pulled from another site. I know this because it was hand coded:
<head><title>My Test Page</title></head>
<h1 id="testanchor2">Heading number 2</h1>
I was busy so I didn’t check into it.
Tonight, however, as I sat down to work on my creative writing I thought I would make a quick diversion to YouTube and respond to a comment I recently received. (If you are a writer, you know that diversions are part of the creative writing process.)
This time I was on my home computer and noticed that NoScript also blocked superfish.com on YouTube. If I hadn’t recognized superfish from yesterday I probably would have passed it off as a new Google property. I did a search and found it was adware used in a few Firefox extensions. Browsing forum posts (dated back in 2010) I found NoScript had also informed the posters of superfish and they were trying to trace it back to some unknown extension.
But there was nothing recent and I didn’t use any of the plugins or extensions they mentioned.
So I did some spring cleaning. If I would have had lots of extensions and I needed to track down the nefarious one, I would have disabled them all and then re-enabled them one by one until superfish came up. The last enabled extension would be the culprit. Luckily I use only four: LastPass, NoScript, User Agent Switcher, and IE View.
I trusted the first three so I started by disabling IE View. After restarting Firefox NoScript no longer listed superfish as a blocked script. I then went to the IE View Firefox plugin page and noticed several unhappy posts starting on March 5th mentioning this new “feature” and declaring that IE View was now adware.
What’s disturbing is that what was once a benign extension that I originally used as I trained myself to use Firefox as my default browser years ago slipped an invasive feature in without my knowing. Some pages for work still needed to be opened in IE so the extension prevented me from using Firefox on incompatible sites by automatically launching the site in IE. It has been over three years and I now trained to open IE when I want to use Sharepoint, and a few other IE only sites. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I really used IE View. So, like anything else that is installed, if you don’t need it, get rid of it.
(Oddly enough, it was a pluggin I recommended here on my blog exactly 3 years 3 days ago. I’ve since updated the post stating I don’t recommend it anymore.)
Now I don’t know exactly what superfish is, it appears to be something that monitors your browsing habits and recommends shopping deals based upon the pages you visit, but I know I don’t need it. I don’t need some script being added to my browser monitoring what pages I’m going to, I don’t need a shopping or deal assistant, and really, I no longer need IE View.
I’m fine with a certain level of tracking. I’m okay when I’m logged into Facebook or Twitter and I know they are tracking the pages I view as sites display the share buttons, but I don’t remain logged into Facebook or Twitter as I browse. Plus I am aware these sites or doing this and I’m fine with their business models. I use their service for free, the least I can do is pay them by giving them a little bit of data about stuff I’m likely viewing because I clicked to it from my news feed or intend to post it to my own account.
Google is my lifeline so I’m always logged in when I browse because I get a huge benefit from Google. I’m not afraid of Google and I trust them with my data (for now). If I need to do some odd research for “creative writing purposes” (yeah, that’s the ticket) I just go Incognito.
I allow a few other tracking sites to follow me around, but unless I trust the service, they are not running in my browser. If I know I’m receiving a benefit, or if I know the site I’m visiting is receiving a benefit (ad revenue to keep the bloggers posting) I’m more likely to allow tracking. I personally receive no benefit from a deal site I never heard of.
Well, mystery solved and I cleaned out all of my unwanted extensions. Now I can get back to my diversion on YouTube before I spend some time writing something other than a blog post.