To uncover the somewhat obscure routing of shortened URLs, I made a small but practical web extension. 'Quo Vadis?' is a link unshortener, but with an extra dimension. It reveals every link in the chain of URL redirections.
Shortened URLs such as ow.ly/5u7Re or bit.ly/3yuZeRo are not transparent: you cannot see what their destination is. Moreover, many shortened URLs do not lead directly to their final destination, but use even less transparent detours. They often inject tracker URLs, unseen by you, before going to the destination URL.
That's very obscure, and potentially dangerous.
So I made an add-on, that shows every step in the chain of redirects: where the found link redirects to, where the redirected link redirects to, and so on, up to and including the final page location. Now a shortened URL has nothing more to hide.
When is this helpful?
- If you are curious.
- If you aspire to a more transparent internet.
- If you don't want to blindly click on an obscure link.
- If you want to avoid certain web domains, that follow you or misinform you.
- If you want to see if your internet traffic is conducted completely over secure connections.
- If you want to discover all intermediaries and affiliates that collect statistics about your click behavior.
Or all of the above.
Quo Vadis? investigates where the selected URL leads and reports the progress real-time. A small temporary pop-up shows every link in the chain of URL redirections. The bottom URL is the final URL, where the selected URL would take you, eventually. Every URL in the list is clickable, right-clickable, and scrollable.
These examples illustrate a few things:
- Just because the first URL uses HTTPS and the last URL uses HTTPS, that doesn't mean HTTPS is used the whole way.
- Redirection URLs can be very long. That's why the list of URLs scrolls horizontally, and tooltips show the full URL as well.
- Most 'affiliate' links use complicated codes in their URL parameters, that somehow represent you. (But how?)
The Quo Vadis? browser extension is published, reviewed by experts, rated by users, and made available for Firefox, at Mozilla.org.
Go to 'Quo Vadis?' at Mozilla.org
Once installed, select 'Quo Vadis?' from the context menu (right-click or command-click) of any link on any web page:
The add-on will then start to display URLs in the white pop-up. Check the examples above. While probing a URL, it's status changes dynamically. The status of a URL is shown by a symbol and a color:
- • Black: the URL is currently being probed (in milliseconds).
- ↓ Gray: the URL redirects to another URL, which is listed (and probed) next.
- ↯ Orange: the URL returned an error (for example 404 Not Found, etc).
- ↺ Red: the URL redirects to an already encountered URL (i.e. a circular reference).
- ↳ Green: the Final URL, that returned no errors, and caused no redirections.
A green color does not mean the URL is "safe". Quo Vadis? does not detect security threats.
If you have any questions, just get in touch.
The Quo Vadis? add-on has been available since 2012. Version 2.0.7 was released in January 2022. The software is free of charge. It nevertheless respects your privacy. It is rated 5 out of 5 stars by users.