Trackmenot: Resisting Surveillance in Web Search

Howe, Daniel; Nissenbaum, Helen F.

TrackMeNot (TMN) is a Firefox browser extension designed to achieve privacy in web search by obfuscating users' queries within a stream of programatically-generated decoys. Since August 2006, when the initial version of TMN was made publicly available, free of charge, there have been over 350,000 downloads. TMN protects web users against data-profiling by simulating HTTP search requests to search engines with queries extracted from the web. In an attempt to mimic users' search behavior this basic functionality is augmented with several technical mechanisms: dynamic query-lists, real-time search awareness, live header maps, burst-mode queries, and cookie-anonymization. We describe each of these mechanisms, evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and demonstrate how the consideration of values directly informed design and implementation. In the discussion section we conceptualize TMN within a broader class of software systems serving ethical, political and expressive ends. Finally we address why web search privacy is particularly important and why TMN’s approach, for the present moment, is both legitimate and necessary.