An Easy Guide to Privacy Basics for Browsing Online - Part I

It used to be the case that you had to sacrifice quite a bit of your time in order to properly consider your privacy online. Once Google Chrome took the internet browser scene by storm, it was hard to justify using anything else to browse the web considering the performance and convenience that you had to give up in order to use an alternative.

Today, many people are wary about just how much Google and Facebook know about you and how much they track you, most recently with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and  the discovery of Google Chrome scanning your computers files for viruses, taking analytics from the results. The problem in both these cases is a lack of user control and consent, neither Google or Facebook do well to notify their users that their data is being scraped (especially egregious in the case of Facebook). 

The problem is, too many people don't know where to start with protecting themselves, as there exist a lot of options for doing so, it can be overwhelming and difficult to understand for the casual user.

Until recently, alternatives such as Firefox paled in comparison to Chrome's speed and feature set, which included integration with their omnipresent Google services (search, maps, etc.) which have become an increasingly essential tool in our lives. Though with the latest release of Firefox Quantum, you no longer have to sacrifice having a fast browser to have one that does not scrape your data without your consent.

I won't spend any more time on what has already been beaten to death online already regarding these privacy issues, and even though there are a plethora of resources regarding how to defend yourself, many do not stress just how easy and convenient this is to do. 

There are no more excuses. Taking at least a minimal amount of consideration for your privacy (and security) is now easy, as the majority of these tools are free, open source (auditable by the public), and work 'out-of-the-box.' Download Firefox and get started.

No Assembly Required

The following set of suggestions require zero set-up and low technical knowledge. Still, many of them are feature rich and can be tooled with to give you even better protections. Seriously, all you need to do is download them through your browser's add-on store (just click the links below if on Firefox).

HTTPS Everywhere

To be fair, most major websites default to HTTPS today, but it still doesn't hurt to have this extension. It ensures you are always using a secure and encrypted connection to websites by rewriting the request when you access it, so even if you intentionally typed http://, it would still direct you to https://. Though this does not protect you from third-party or external content which websites may use and implement (e.g. externally hosted images, advertisements and the like - leave that to our next extension).

uBlock Origin

Although this adblocker works as intended straight out of the box, there is more than meets the eye here. It allows you to block 3rd-party scripts, add additional filters for certain domains, and whitelist sites you wish to support by viewing  their ads (e.g. specific Youtube channels). It is quite powerful, but is a great low-profile ad and tracker blocker with no setup needed.

Privacy Badger

Plain and simple, the extension Automatically sends the 'Do Not Track' header with each website request and evaluates the likelihood that you are still being tracked afterwards. If it determines you may still be being tracked by certain aspects of a site, it will automatically block them. I have yet to see this break any sites I use.

Decentraleyes

Blocking 3rd party content delivery has been a theme here so far, though actually blocking the content and stopping sites from making you load files through large third-party services like Google Hosted Libraries can be difficult and break sites. Websites rely on 3rd-party content hosts to lower upkeep costs of their sites, so they do not need to locally store the content themselves.

This extension comes bundled with a bunch of commonly used files and serves them locally (from your computers storage), stopping sites whenever they try to fetch them from somewhere else. It stops you from potentially being tracked by making such requests to networks for these files.

Don't touch my tabs! (rel=noopener)

In short, this extension adds the attribute rel=noopener to hyperlinks which open a new window or tab. In English, this means that it prevents any new windows/tabs from accessing the previous window. This stops advertisers from accessing information from other tabs and from potential hackers producing fake login page from the service you navigate away from.

(e.g. say you clicked a link on Twitter and it opens a new tab, the site you opened won't be able to touch the old Twitter tab in any way)

CanvasBlocker

This extension prevents website from using the Javascript canvas API to 'fingerprint' (identify your computer, OS, browser) you and be used for further tracking purposes. Many sites use Javascript to display content and images, though every computer generates this content differently, so you may be tracked and identified this way. By default, it is set to fake the readout of the API, meaning a different readout is given every time, so a site can't assign one unique fingerprint to you.

There's More to Be Said

With these extensions you can be reasonably private, as you will halt many trackers and stifle fingerprinting. Though there are other ways in which you can be tracked and profiled, namely your IP address/internet traffic, search engine (Google) and cookies.

It is also important to note that none of these extensions grant anonymity, these extensions just make it a little harder than usual to identify you and 'connect the dots' with your activity.

If you'd like to find out how to enjoy even more privacy, and get a sense of what it takes to become anonymous, then continue on to Part II.


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