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How to remove tracking info from links in MacOS Safari and reclaim your privacy

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How many times do you copy a link that you want to share with others, only to find out — when you paste that link in a message or to a social media post — that the link is 12 miles long and filled with a metric ton of tracking information?

Also: The best secure browsers for privacy in 2023

You know what I’m talking about. You have your link, such as www.example.com/story.html. Then you have a ?, which is followed by something that looks like this:

?utm_source=FBIF&utm_medium=paid-social&utm_campaign=FB+%26+IG+-+ASC+-+Monsters+Campaign&utm_content=FB+%26+IG+-+ASC+-+Monsters+Ad+set&fbclid=Iu9m9Oi4GBIO9+2112+BU2BU1jbw4KWYU103jrVOKwCwa8K94gO-lUlp5m4Ws

If you were to paste the entire link (including what comes after the ?) you’re adding tracking information. No one wants that. No one needs that.

This plague on user privacy has to be stopped. And now Apple has added a little something in Safari (by way of Sonoma) that removes tracking parameters from URLs to prevent tracking and fingerprinting across websites. That means when you copy and paste a link from one site, a message, or an email, you won’t have to bother removing the tracking content before posting. The link will still work as expected, only without the nasty tracking components. 

As far as fingerprinting is concerned, think of it as a collection of information gathered about you that can detect software, network protocols, operating systems, and even devices on a network. Fingerprinting goes much further than traditional tracking and can be used to create a profile of a user.

Let me show you how to enable this feature.

How to remove tracking information in MacOS Safari 

What you’ll need: To gain the benefit of advanced tracking and fingerprint protection, you’ll need MacOS Sonoma, which ships with version 17.0 of Safari. You will only find this feature in Safari if you’ve upgraded to Sonoma.

The first thing to do is open the Safari browser. Once it’s open, click the Safari entry in the Menu Bar and click Settings.

The Safari menu in the MacOS Sonoma Menu Bar.

You can also access Safari settings with the Cmd+, key combination.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

With Settings open, click on the Advanced tab. You’ll see a listing for Use advanced tracking and fingerprinting protection near the center of the window. The feature may or may not be enabled. If it’s not enabled, click the check box to enable it. Once you’ve enabled it, make sure to click the drop-down and select in all browsing. With that taken care of, close the Settings window.

The Safari Settings window.

Make sure to enable the feature for all browsing.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Now, when you copy and paste the URL in question, it will only copy the relevant information and leave out all of the nasty tracking. 

The only caveat to this, I have found, is that it doesn’t work 100% of the time. In my testing, some sites are still able to leave the tracking information intact. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the standard operating procedure. As soon as web browser developers come up with a way to thwart privacy invasion, web developers find a way to circumvent those efforts. 

Also: Your Android apps are tracking you. Here’s how to stop them

Even so, getting rid of tracking information from even a percentage of sites you visit should be considered a win. Sadly, I believe this game of cat and mouse will never end and consumers will continue to find themselves having to go to great lengths to protect their privacy. With companies like Apple doing what they can to help, it’s up to users to go the extra mile and ensure we’re not spreading those tracking strings by deleting everything in a URL that follows the ? character. Do that and you’ll save those you share links with from having their privacy invaded.


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