Help / Frequently Asked Questions

How do I install TrackMeNot?

  • Install or upgrade Firefox if necessary - TMN runs in version 1.5 or greater.
  • Click the 'Install TrackMeNot' link
  • Click 'Install' in the dialog, (you may need to instruct Firefox to accept downloads from; then Restart Firefox.
  • You should now see the TMN icon in the status bar (bottom right-hand corner of the browser window). It will indicate "Off".
  • To start TMN, click 'TrackMeNot' in the Firefox 'Tools' menu. This will change TMN's status to "On". After a few seconds you will see queries start to appear in the status bar.
    [Note: TMN requests are sent to search engines just like 'real' requests, and so will end up in any history kept by the site, e.g., Google's 'search-history' function]
  • To disable display of queries in the status bar, view the query log, or to adjust other options, select 'TrackMeNot->Options' in the Firefox 'Tools' menu.
  • To turn TMN off, locate 'TrackMeNot->Enabled' in the Firefox 'Tools' menu & uncheck it.
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How do I upgrade to the current version of TrackMeNot?

  • Firefox's extension manager will alert you when TrackMeNot is updated, and prompt you to install the upgrade.
  • If you've disabled this function or want to do a manual upgrade, simply follow the install instructions above.

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How do I remove TrackMeNot?

  • To remove TrackMeNot from your system, click 'Tools->Extensions' in the Firefox menu and launch the extension manager.
  • Select TrackMeNot from the list of installed extensions, then click the 'Uninstall' button.
  • Restart Firefox to complete the uninstall.

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Can I control the rate at which TMN sends queries?

Yes. Go to 'Tools->TrackMeNot->Options' and select an average frequency.

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Can I choose the search engines that TMN queries?

Yes. Go to 'Tools->TrackMeNot->Search-Engines' and select one or more search-engines to query.

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Can I control the search terms that TMN uses?

Yes, but not directly. TMN currently uses RSS feeds to generate its initial set of queries. This listed can be edited, in the options panel ('Tools->Options->RSS Feeds'), by typing or pasting in the new (comma-delimited) list, then pushing the validate button.

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Isn't it easy for search companies (or third parties) to filter out TMN queries?

The answer here is not straightforward; even with dynamically evolving query sets and burst-mode timing, there are data-mining and machine-learning techniques which may well be able to filter some TMN queries based on data patterns obtained from actual users. However, with the combination of randomized scheduling and query lengths, inclusion of changing terms from RSS feeds, and evolving query sets, we believe the difficulty for 3rd parties wishing to aggregate such data into accurate or identifying profiles is significantly increased.

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Can TMN effectively hide my identity?

To the extent that a third-party tries to identify you through searches alone, TMN can potentially make this a lot more difficult. Much depends on the search query terms included in future versions of TMN. If third-parties are using other means to identify you, e.g. through IP addresses and information from your ISP, TMN will be of little use.

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Can TMN prevent mining and profiling of my searches?

This is a potentially promising application of TMN, particularly with version 0.4.x's use of dynamically evolving query terms.

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Isn't it a good thing that search companies keep track of my search history?

In a perfect world, where search companies and other third parties could be trusted, such histories would serve all of us well and promise greater functionality to both the companies and individual searchers. As long as search companies and other information collectors unilaterally develop and pursue policies that don't take seriously the interests of individuals, society, and standing political and social values, individuals will have to make a choice between convenience and privacy.

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Why is TMN so concerned with keeping control in the hands of individual users; as opposed to other strategies which use 3rd party servers/proxies?

The larger intention of TMN is to challenge the current practice of search companies, and other third-parties, of unilaterally setting policies on the collection and use of personal information. We think users should have a say; we think search companies should listen. To level the playing field, we have sought to create a mechanism that places some degree of control back in the hands of users and, at every point in the design where this has been feasible, we have sought to do so.

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Won't software like this make it harder for the government to catch real criminals (or terrorists) who might be using the web for nefarious purposes?

We are unaware of any instances in which the analysis of search queries has helped law enforcement or security agencies deter or prosecute criminals or terrorists. Constitutional principles, however, place limits on what the government can and cannot do in such investigations. A targeted search on a particular individual's online activities (once probable cause has been demonstrated) is unlikely to be affected. TMN may, however, make unconstitutional 'fishing expeditions' more difficult, which is consistent with the values of a free society.

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Will widespread deployment of TMN eventually 'clog' the search engines it queries?

TMN no doubt places some additional load on search engines (though TMN requests are tiny compared with other types of web-traffic -- e.g. images, animations, music, video, etc.). How much and how serious the impact will depend on the number of users and their use patterns. Our intention (and expectation) with TMN is that its effect on search engines be minimal. Further, universal deployment of TMN is not a goal of the project. Rather, we hope to offer a level of protection to individuals who may feel threatened by the practices of search engines, and perhaps even to afford such users a small voice in the emerging debate on such practices.

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Does TMN ever simulate click-throughs on links that come up from "fake" searches?

TMN now selectively "clicks-through" on links available in simulated searches. The click-through algorithm is designed to minimize the possibility of clicking on revenue-generating ads to avoid impacting ad-based business practices.

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What kind of guarantees can TMN make regarding its effectiveness at protecting my privacy?

We can make no guarantees without further evaluation measures, however, we believe that search companies may need to go to considerable trouble to separate user-generated from TMN-generated searches. Further, any such filtering efforts are likely to contain some number of 'false-positives'.

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If one of the search engines were to come up with a new technical mechanism that could defeat TMN, how would you even know?

There have been changes to which we have been able to respond, but there may be current or future mechanisms of which we are unaware and hence not able to respond to.

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How random is TMN's random timing mechanism. Isn't it likely that a search engine (using the massive amount of user data they've already collected) could distinguish 'any' random mechanism from real user search behavior?

With sufficient time and resources, search companies could likely detect a majority of TMN searches with some certainty. We are continuously improving TMNs timing mechanism to mimic, more closely, real usage patterns. New releases of TMN (> v05) contain a 'burst' mechanism which schedules TMN queries primarily when users are actually searching, thus avoiding 'patterns' in TMN's randomness.

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How is this different than a (Distributed) Denial of Service attack or spamware?

In providing a way for individual users to assert their privacy rights in web-search, we believe TMN is a legitimate use of network and computing resources. Although we understand that critics may use such rhetoric to cast doubt on our efforts and intentions, we are confident that by all common understandings, TMN is neither DOSware nor spamware. Here are definitions from Wikipedia.

"a denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Typically the targets are high-profile web servers, and the attack attempts to make the hosted web pages unavailable on the Internet." (Wikipedia, March 29 2007)

"Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, which are generally undesired." (Wikipedia, March 29 2007)

"Spamdexing is any of various methods to manipulate the relevancy or prominence of resources indexed by a search engine, usually in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of the indexing system." (Wikipedia, March 29 2007)

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Does the selective click-through feature contribute to advertising "click-fraud"?

The selective click-through system is designed to minimize the probability of clicking on revenue-generating ads. Search engines currently format ad-related links in a relatively consistent manner and TMN's current ad-avoiding techniques appear to be adequate for the time being.

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How have the search engine companies responded to this project?

They haven't.

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I read Bruce Schneier's review that said TrackMeNot doesn't work; is he right?

No. First, his comments targetted the initial alpha release of TMN which is significantly different from the current version. Second, he misconstrues the goals of TMN.

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I would love to use TrackMeNot; why doesn't it work with browsers other than Firefox?

Our resources are limited but we would be happy to collaborate with others who would like to develop TMN for other browsers.

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I would love to use TrackMeNot in my language; is it supported?

We have been working extensively to make TMN easily translatable into more languages. There are currently versions in Danish, German, French, Croatian, Dutch, Portuguese and Chinese. We would be happy to collaborate with anyone wishing to extend TMN to their language!

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There are several projects that claim to protect privacy in web search (e.g., Tor, Anonymizer, etc.) Which is most effective? Should I use TMN instead of these others?

The use of TMN does not preclude the use of any of these other technologies and the highest degree of protection will likely be obtained with some combination of approaches; i.e., Tor, TMN and manual cookie-management.

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Google sends me to a 'sorry' page and tells me that it suspects my machine of being infected with spyware or a virus, and even prompts me for a captcha when I try to search. Did the search engine detect TrackMeNot?

This is not a response to TMN in particular. However, some search engines have begun to block (and/or request CAPTCHAs) from IP addresses that issue a high number of queries. If you experience this behavior, we recommend that you configure TrackMeNot with a lower query rate (10 queries per hour appears to work well) and enable 'burst-mode.' This not only alleviates the strain on search engines that TMN might be causing, and allows you to avoid the CAPTCHAs, but also better mimics real human activity.

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Can you explain each of TMN's features?

  • RSS Support for seed-list generation/substitution (since 0.6.x)

    TMN now parses RSS feeds to generate some portion of its initial query terms. Following generation of the initial seed-list of query terms, TMN will occasionally query a randomly selected RSS feed to get new terms. A default set of RSS feeds is provided with TMN, and users may edit and add new feeds in the TMN options panel.
  • Selective Click-Through(since 0.6.x)

    TMN now 'clicks-through' on some percentage of its searches by selecting and navigating to links received in the search result to further simulate user behavior. The click-through mechanism is designed to minimize the probability of clicking on revenue-generating ads.
  • Realtime Search-Tracking

    TMN now recognizes when a 'real' search is being performed by a user and can act on this information in a variety of ways (see below).
  • Dynamic URLs/Header Matching

    TMN now keeps track of where (for each search engine) you've last searched and uses that URL to send its queries (for example, if you start using the Google toolbar rather than Google's webpage, TMN will update itself to do the same). Similarly, TMN now stores the header information your browser is sending out (browser type, version, OS, etc.) and mimics these in its own queries.
  • Dynamic Queries

    As of version 0.4.x, TMN's static word list has been replaced with a dynamic query mechanism which 'evolves' each client (uniquely) over time, parsing the results of its searches for 'logical' future query terms with which to replace those already used.

    Note: since the query list is continually evolving according to TMN algorithms, changes made by hand-editing this file will be overwritten. We hope to support user-supplied query lists in future versions.

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Can you explain the various options that TMN supports?

  • Burst-Mode

    Rather than sending queries only at randomized intervals, TMN (in burst-mode) recognizes when the user performs a search, then sends a 'burst' of queries over the next few moments to simulate actual user behavior. As of version 0.6.x, burst-mode further mimics user behavior by selecting longer queries and permuting them to form a number of smaller "thematic" queries.
  • Current Queries

    This button allows the user to view the current state of TMN's evolving query-list (see above for description).
  • RSS-feeds

    TMN parses RSS feeds in two cases: a) to generate some portion of its initial query set and, b) to occasionally make substitutions in this list with new RSS data. While a default set of RSS feeds is provided (for each supported language), TMN users can edit and/or add new feeds in the options panel. To do so, change the text in the RSS text field (in the options panel), then click the 'Validate' button. To revert back to the default set of feeds, click the 'Use Defaults' button in the options panel.
  • Logging Options

    TMN offers 3 modes for logging: 1) 'disabled' - no logs are written, 2) 'normal' (no options checked) - logs are kept for each session and then deleted when Firefox is closed, and 3) 'persistent' - each session is appended to the log which remains indefinately (Note: although TMN logs are not large, the user might want to occasionally clear them (via te 'Clear Log' button when using this mode).
  • Show/Clear Log

    The 'Show Log' button allows the user to view a snapshot of TMN's log state (refreshing the browser window will keep this view current); The 'Clear Log' button, will (as expected) clear and re-initialize TMN's log.
  • Logging Options

    TMN offers 3 modes for logging: 1) 'disabled' - no logs are written, 2) 'normal' (no options checked) - logs are kept for each session and then deleted when Firefox is closed, and 3) 'persistent' - each session is appended to the log which remains indefinately (Note: although TMN logs are not large, the user is responsible for occasionally clearing them in this mode).
  • Show Status/Queries

    These checkboxes control TMN's status bar -- if 'Show Queries' is unchecked, TMN queries are not displayed as they are sent; if 'Show Status' is unchecked, no messages are displayed in the status bar at all.

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