▷ How to prevent Google from following your clicks

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Every time you click on a link in a Google search, it replaces the site URL with a tracking URL. If you hover over a link with your mouse before clicking on it, Safari will show you the full URL of that link. It is a great way to check where you are about to be shipped. Google plays with this, showing you the proper URL for the link in question.

Only when you really click on it, exchange that link, replacing it with its own tracking link.

  

Fortunately, there is a way to block this stealthy, unintelligent, and totally surprising behavior.

Of course Google tracks you

No one is surprised that Google tracks them, but that doesn't mean you should like or even accept it. Especially when tracking is deliberately confused in this way.

Even if you trust Google to "just" track you, and do nothing wrong when hijacking your clicks, this URL-sharing behavior could pose a huge security risk on other sites. Checking the URL before clicking a link is standard practice for careful web browsing. This breaks it.

So what exactly is going on? Here's Jeff Johnson, the developer of StopTheMadness, a Safari, Chrome, and Firefox extension that "prevents websites from making it difficult to use your browser."

Clicking on the link, the onmousedown action executes some JavaScript that swaps the original URL with a new tracking URL. Google does this while clicking, just below your nose. Or finger

Johnson is specifically talking about ⌘ clicks, which open links in new tabs. But it also applies to regular clicks.

For madness

The StopTheMadness test page is a true reveal.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To cure this horrible behavior, install the Johnson extension. Not only does it protect you against Google's click-hijacking behavior, but it also removes other blocks that developers often use on their sites. For example, have you ever been prevented from selecting text? Forced to type a long password instead of pasting it? StopTheMadness stops this, well, this Madness. Here are some of their protections:

  • Cut, copy, paste
  • Drag and drop
  • Text selection
  • Key shortcuts ⌘
  • Context menus

Cult of mac He wrote about StopTheMadness last year, if you want to know more about this essential tool. I like it because it stops Google sharing on your tracking code.

And if you want to have fun, visit the StopTheMadness test page, which "shows some of the terrible power a website has over your browsing experience."

I tried it on the iPad and I am sure it is a revelation. For many of these annoying behaviors, I previously assumed that Mobile Safari was to blame. Not being able to drag images off pages, for example, which is something I want to do all the time.

Unfortunately, there is no way to install extensions like StopTheMadness on iOS. But it's pretty essential on the Mac. Just be sure to read it first – there's no point in installing an extension to protect your browsing if you haven't researched enough to know that you can trust it.


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