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Is TrackOFF the internet security service you’ve been sorely missing?
With so much talk about hacking, identity theft and online fraud floating around in 2017, we’ll totally understand if you never want to switch on a computer ever again. Luckily, there are ways to make your online journey a little safer.
Browser add-ons, anti-virus programs and common sense are just some of the ways you can filter out — and avoid — the gunk from online pages you visit everyday. But some companies believe this isn’t quite enough.
That’s where TrackOFF comes into play.
The Baltimore-based security company claims to build the “best in class tools to secure users’ identities and personal data”. It’s latest effort takes the form of its eponymous privacy protection tool, which recently launched in South Africa. But the question is… is it worth it?
Memeburn was given a press edition of TrackOFF to review, which I’ve been using for about three weeks now. Here are my impressions.
Searching and installing
Installation is easy enough. That is, double clicking the executable file. Finding it on the internet is another matter entirely.
TrackOFF’s primary page doesn’t link to a download, instead points to monthly or yearly purchase options. I can’t understand why TrackOFF would do this, considering that other paid-for services have downloads readily available for users on a try-and-pay-later basis.
Nevertheless, once you find it, the program goes through a usual install procedure familiar on Windows 10.
Once it’s installed you’ll need to add it to your browsers by hitting the Settings button and enabling protection for the browser of your choice. TrackOFF will then restart the browser (incidentally, without warning), and install an add-on. It’s not elegant, but it seems to work on Chrome and Firefox.
What does it do?
TrackOFF effectively intercepts attempts by websites and services to gain your cookies — small text files stored by your browser that can alert websites about your browsing preferences, location or language. It’s a small file that carries a lot of clout — your personal info.
Blocking the problematic cookies while keeping the genuinely useful ones is the key for any filter program or add on, and this is what TrackOFF tries to do. Note, tries.
During my three weeks with the program, browsing on the likes of Google Chrome and my daily driver Mozilla Firefox, TrackOFF found around 200 tracking attempts per week. Judging by the program’s logs, it doesn’t seem to pick and choose cookies to keep, but rather blocks as many as it can find. That’s particularly annoying if you happen to be logged into the likes of Twitter or Facebook. Chances are, TrackOFF will delete those cookies, forcing you to log in again.
Yes, you can whitelist sites, but you’ll have to remember to manually do just that. Not as seamless or trouble-free as one would hope then.
With that said, the program also grants users a “digital fingerprint”, changing said fingerprint every few hours to protect your identity.
“TrackOFF uses state of the art algorithms to intrinsically alter your digital fingerprint in real-time,” the company’s explainer reads.
“The beauty of TrackOFF is that it was designed not to disrupt or disturb your browsing experience, as many other privacy products do. It does not block scripts from running, as that could affect the way pages are loaded or displayed, and even break certain page elements.”
The company also notes that this constant fingerprint swapping keeps users away from prying eyes. I find that claim extremely hard to test in a review. What I can say however is that TrackOFF was actively blocking scripts as promised, that at least according to its dashboard.
But this is where a few problems come to the fore.
Where TrackOFF falls short
For one, TrackOFF is a paid-for service, and it’s not what I’d call cheap. For the average internet user, US$34.95 per year is a lot of cash for a program that blocks scripts, cookies and clears history. I can think of a few browser add-ons that do the exact same thing for free. Granted, yes, TrackOFF is standalone and works across a number of browsers, but some users only require one.
And finally, the UI is arguably the program’s biggest disappointment.
It’s laced in pastel blues and large, obnoxious fonts that feel dirtier than it should. It doesn’t scream professional, but at least it’s easy to navigate than, say, Snapchat. TrackOFF lists the five most commonly used browsers (with the option to clear browsing histtory alongside) on the right, with bold icons on the left.
Said left-hand side pane lists a Tracking Activity tab and a tab for Private Search, using DuckDuckGo. Again, a nice option, but nothing you can’t do from the browser itself.
Ultimately, TrackOFF seems like a strange service to pay for in the world of real-time anti-virus programs and privacy-monitoring, cookie-deleting browser addons and browsers with built-in Do Not Follow features. As a rule of thumb, you should remove cookies regularly from your browser and clear your history, but you needn’t pay for a service to do that. You can do that manually.
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding TrackOFF’s primary function, but it’s the program or service’s job to explain exactly why I should use it. I don’t feel TrackOFF does that well enough.
Granted, perhaps the “digital fingerprint” system does actually stop prying eyes from snooping, but I couldn’t test that. Additionally, you’ll need to scoop out a few more dollars to grab the VPN-enabled version which will ensure a tunneled, secure connection to whatever service, website or app you use.
I don’t see a personal need for TrackOFF on my machines, but you can always judge for yourself by signing up for a free trial.