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Link prefetching – Privacy implications

white Link prefetching is a mechanism which uses browser idle time to download or prefetch web pages that the user might visit in within the next click.

When told to do so (by specific tags in the HTML code), the browser  begins silently prefetching specified documents, storing them in its cache.

This is implemented in Firefox, Flock and iCab as far as I know.

The problem with this is that:

  • If you are using volume based data plans, the prefetch might generate a lot of unexpected traffic.
  • A site might load a malware infected page (called drive-by downloads) without you even knowing it.
  • There might be some legal risk for downloading illegal sites without having requested them.

For a more precise explanation see the very complete Wikipedia Article on the topic.

Now, what can we do about that?

Take some easy steps:

  • Point your browser to about:config (hit enter and promise to be good 😉
  • Go to the network.prefetch-next entry (should be set to true)
  • Double-click on the line and the entry should change to false
  • You’re done

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