Why we offer to clean parameters

When you browse the web, clicking and clicking through links to reach a webpage, all the pages you see are given back to you from various webservers. These webservers are able to choose the right page thanks to the URL holded by the link you click on. A URL often looks like https://stuff and you can see them in the address bar of your web browser.

For exemple, clicking on a link, which URL is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL will ask Wikipedia webserver to send you back the webpage about URL.

Some URL may be really ugly to see. For exemple, to ask Wikipedia to send you back the webpage, which will allow you to modify the content of the URL article, you have to click on a link, which looks like: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=URL&action=edit.

The things you can read after the question mark in the previous URL (the title=URL&action=edit part) are called parameters. Their aim is to help the webservers to build complex pages, given a number of options. This way, the same “page” will serve different contents, for different parameters.

So, what's wrong with parameters?

parameters are totally fine. The problem comes from the fact that they could be used for another goal than helping the server to build the right page.

In fact, webservers are very dumb things. They only do what they are asked to do. Nothing more, nothing less. Thus, if the Wikipedia webserver is configured to only handle the title and action parameters, it will completely ignore other parameters, which may appear in the URL used to display webpage from it.

That is to say, accessing all of the following URL will display exactly the same thing.

This matter of fact is used by marketing and audience measuring companies to put in the wild specially forged links, which will display the webpage they are intended to, but leaks some other information to the webserver, by the mean of tracking parameters, which serve the only goal of disclosing your browsing session to them.

You already see a lot of them, often on media websites, to help them know if you comes from Twitter, Facebook or an email campaign. Some may think there is nothing wrong with such a disclosure, but we think there is a sick race to gather the most information about us in our back, and we do not want to participate in this anti-privacy game.

Oh! And how can I protect myself from them?

As we said previously, all parameters do not have necessarily a role to play to display the correct web page. Thus, they can be removed from the URL of the webpage we are trying to display, without inferring with its computation by the webserver.

If we take the following URL http://www.newspaper.any/what_an_article_1635831?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter we can see two tracking parameters:

By removing this two parameters, we do not change the way the webserver will retrieve the right article and send it back to us. But this webserver is now a little more blind about our origin, what is better for our privacy.

Finally, if you want to think more about your privacy in our modern web environment, We are pleased to let you know about other effort to preserve our privacy: