Don’t Track Me, Google: a plugin to reclaim your search URLs
I had a problem this afternoon: searching for details on a conference from the distant past, I hit Google and found a link to a Word document with the conference programme. I wanted to email this link to someone, and that’s when the problem appeared: I couldn’t. Here’s what I discovered, and what I discovered I could do about it.
If I clicked the link, the Word file downloaded directly to my disk. I could send the file as an attachment, but that was no use – the link needed to be added to a web page. So the next logical step was to right-click the link and copy the address. But what Google was giving me wasn’t the target address: it was a long, ugly redirect URL that passed my click through Google’s machinery before taking my to my destination.
For a web page, that’s not so bad – I can follow the link, go through Google’s little detour and then copy the final URL from my address bar. But I couldn’t do that with my Word file, because it auto-downloaded. I poked around the Google results, and there was no easy way to get the destination URL. They printed it beneath the main link, but in a truncated version that was only useful for identifying the server the file lived on. I could send the entire Google-laden URL in an email, but it was longer than some Katherine Mansfield stories.
I was surprised that Google weren’t giving me access to the direct URL – arguably the most important part of the search results. I don’t always want or need to follow a link in my search results – I often just want to grab the URL and be gone.
I tried the same search in Bing and DuckDuckGo (the go-to browser for privacy enthusiasts), but only Google returned the file I wanted. I did notice that neither of the other search engines fiddled with the URLs, which was nice. Of course a clean URL doesn’t mean you’re not being tracked, it just means you’re not being tracked in an overbearing manner. Incidentally I’d already ticked the “send a Do Not Track request” option in Chrome’s settings, which had no bearing on this problem.
So I just couldn’t get my file URL from Google. But I wasn’t too worried, because it’s the internet, and I was in no doubt that someone else had encountered, and solved, the same problem.
Enter Don’t track me Google, a plugin for the Chrome browser that removes this kind of redirection from Google search results. Problem solved! It turns your Google search results back into a usable list of direct URLs that you can do with as you please. It’s also available for Firefox via the Userscripts version, and if you’re so inclined you can browse the code behind it all in this StackExchange thread.
This is a really useful little tool for anyone regularly using Google for web research, removing a subtle but insidious level of obfuscation.