On Jan 15th, 2020, Microsoft released the new Edge browser based on the Chromium platform. The browser had already been doing rounds in Beta build for almost a year now and the stable variant is not much different. The browser looks almost the same as before with a new modified logo. But having said that, the portion that kept me hooked or rather intrigued from the start was the privacy options.
The new Edge chromium has a built-in ad blocker and website tracking prevention. However, there are different levels to it and let me explain how they function.
What is Website tracking?
Websites try to categorize every visitor based on their user ID, hardware information, IP address. This categorization is then used to provide personalized ads, products, or news. For instance, if you visit Amazon.com and search for a smartphone, Amazon will have a track of this information. This is first-party tracking and courtesy to that, it will suggest you other smartphones you may like on the homepage or your email ID.
Apart from that, the Amazon website also has third-party trackers. So if you were searching for smartphones, you will see Amazon smartphone ads on FaceBook, Instagram, etc. Third-party trackers are rather eviler as they share your data with multiple parties and the chain goes on.
How to Block Ads and Trackers in Edge Chromium
Edge Chromium, by default, has turned ON blocking and tracking prevention. However, it is set to a balanced level which is not the most stringent. To make it more stringent, head over to Edge’s Settings.
On the Settings page, head over to the “Privacy and services” tab wherein you will see the Tracking Prevention option. The Balanced setting, set by default, means trackers and ads on only unvisited websites would be blocked. Websites that you visit frequently will still be able to run trackers on you. To avoid that, click on Strict to move to a further stringent ad-blocking and tracker prevention.
To verify the tracker blocking, open a website and once it is loaded, click on the padlock icon beside the URL. The pop-up will show you connection, certificate, and tracker information. For instance, I opened washingtonpost.com and the pop-up lists down the trackers blocked on the particular webpage.
As you can see in the below screenshot, Edge detects more trackers when the tracking prevention is set to Strict. However, the caveat with Strict mode is it can seldom interfere with the appearance of websites.
In case you have a few trusted websites, you can add them to your whitelist. To do that, open the intended website. For instance, I want to whitelist techwiser.com. Hence, I will open techwiser.com and click on the lock icon beside it. At the bottom, you can switch the tracking option to Off. Once done, Edge Chromium won’t block trackers on the particular website.
Inbuilt Blocker vs Third-party AdBlock Extensions
The inbuilt tracking prevention of Edge Chromium is effective but it ain’t full proof. It can block the majority of the trackers and personalized ads but it still leaves out ads on particular trusted websites. For instance, check the below screenshot from YouTube.com. I can still see ads beside the video even in strict tracking prevention.
Ghostery vs. Disconnect vs. Edge Chromium
To gauge the effectiveness of Edge’s tracker blocking, I compared it with 2 other popular browser extensions – Ghostery and Disconnect. I visited a bunch of website home pages and used all the 3 blockers to account for the number of trackers blocked on a particular website. Throughout the testing, I noticed that Edge could detect an insane number of trackers on websites compared to Ghostery or Disconnect. However, at times, it exempted a few websites which I am not sure is due to whitelisting or the inability to find trackers.
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Best AdBlockers for Edge Chromium 2020
In case you are not content with the native tracking prevention, Edge Chromium also supports extensions. In addition to the Microsoft Edge Addons, you can also use Google Chrome extensions. Here is a list of a few of them.
Ghostery is an open-source Adblock and tracker prevention software. It is available on the Microsoft Store and this is what I personally prefer. Ghostery doesn’t have an aggressive approach on websites and I never found it too interfere with the website interface. In the past, Ghostery has gained some clout due to their complicated business model. But, now it is pretty straight forward. It has a premium version starting at $2/month which provides you historical data and stats. Ghostery also has a reward program wherein it provides you discounts and shopping rewards instead of ads.
Disconnect is another popular blocker extension but currently, it is not present on the Microsoft Edge Addons Store. But, you can still sideload it from the Chrome Web Store. Disconnect is comparatively less resource hungry and even lesser aggressive on adblocking. Unlike Ghostery, it can also block banner and text ads. Moreover, I found Disconnect to break web interfaces of certain apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, etc.
Edge Chromium as of now is much similar to other chromium browsers like Brave, Vivaldi, etc. In fact, I would rate Brave better than Edge Chromium currently. However, Edge has a real edge in terms of Windows integration and cross-platform sync. As of now, you can only sync history and password but in the upcoming variants, Edge will let you sync open tabs, history, extensions, etc. If Microsoft can pull off the ecosystem trick from its bag, I could see a lot of people shifting to Edge chromium.