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

Welcome to Part II of this guide, if you missed Part I, you should check that out first.

Okay, So Some Assembly is Required

The following suggestions require some effort, although minimal, and require no upkeep once you get them going. As a result, these tools are a bit more powerful in locking things down.

Firefox Profile Maker

If you are using Firefox (you should), then the FF profile maker allows you to easily adjust your browser's about:config file with pre-set privacy oriented settings and explains what each of them do. These settings include; disabling webRTC, disabling malware scans, disabling browser pings, and even installing many of the extensions mentioned here and in Part I.

Firefox Multi-Account Containers

Probably my favourite extension of the bunch because of the power it puts into your hands, though it is often overlooked and underrated. This extension allows you to carve out a separate 'box' for each of your online lives, meaning you can effectively quarantine certain sites into their own separate instances. It's like opening a new browser for particular sites (while only having one browser open), this way you don't need to worry about Google or Facebook taking a look at your activity and track you in other tabs.

(In fact, Mozilla released a version of this set up just to quarantine Facebook. If you really do not want to take the time to set up categories for all of your frequent sites. Or if you're still using Chrome...)

It requires some setup, and how tedious it is depends on how much you want to separate things. For example, I have separate categories for every website I frequent (i.e. Google, Facebook, Shopping, Reddit/Twitter/news, banking, etc.) I keep all of my shopping sites together in their own container, because I don't really care if Amazon knows if I'm on Ebay or to Newegg, but it sure as hell does not need to know what's going on with my financial windows. I keep LinkedIn away from my email and social accounts (even though it is a bit futile), and much more.

The worst part of this extension though is that your settings don't sync between devices! (Mozilla please change this!) So you'll need to set it up for each one.

Cookie Auto-Delete

My second favourite extension. A perfect match with Firefox containers, this extension does exactly what it says on the box.You can protect yourself from cookies by having them automatically removed, and only save the cookies you want for the sites you would like to stay logged into (they are useful for something!). It comes with the ability to only save cookies for particular Firefox containers, meaning you can save your login cookies for Google, while also keeping Google quarantined in its own container away from any other sites you visit!

(Although this extension also suffers from the Firefox containers sync problem!)

Obviously requires some setup, as you need to pick each and every site you want to save cookies on (if any), which is important if you'd like to stay logged in anywhere.

A VPN

There are an overwhelming amount of VPN's to pick from, but I'm not here to make a particular recommendation. What I do recommend is checking out ThatOnePrivacySite to make your own choice on a VPN that's right for you. It has an extensive catalogue of VPN services and ratings on various aspects of them. 

VPN's allow you to route your internet traffic through encrypted channels, which is especially important if you ever connect to public wifi networks. VPN's are not free, and many of their advertising strategies are sketchy to say the least (be wary of online recommendations from web publications, they are mostly paid for). Remember, with a VPN you are routing your internet traffic through someone else's server, so be sure to find a VPN service that claims not to keep logs of users browsing history.

VPNs are easy to use, but are not free and do not guarantee privacy, so you should do your own research here

(WARNING: NEVER use a free VPN service, please! You are routing your traffic through someone else's machine, they are likely profiting from your data and/or keeping logs of your internet traffic.)

-- free trials of paid services are fine though

DuckDuckGoSearX and many others

Although these search engine recommendations here don't require any 'assembly,' they are no doubt larger undertakings for some people and sacrifice some of the supreme convenience of Google. DuckDuckGo (DDG) claims not to collect any data on you or your searches or save your search history. They use no cookies on their sites, except when you make settings changes and want to save them (not used to identify you). They do not target ads towards you based on your search history, like Google is so famous for. Instead, they feed you ads (if you allow them) only based on what you search (e.g. if you search for 'car' you will likely see a car ad)

(I emphasize 'claim' because that is frankly all they can offer us, and for some that won't be enough, though there are some tradeoffs to be made when it comes to search engines and their features.)

DuckDuckGo has a fantastic feature called 'bangs,' which allows you to turn your Firefox search bar into the ultimate search tool. It allows you to search hundreds of websites in a single place with simple prefixes such as !g (for Google search, if you dare), !maps (Google Maps), !w (Wikipedia), !a (for Amazon) and much more. You can make DDG your default search in Firefox by going into hamburger menu (top right of browser) > Options > Search > Default Search Engine.

SearX is unlike DDG in that it actually mixes your search queries on other search platforms without storing the data, meaning there are no logs on their end or in your browser. Despite being best option for privacy of my two recommendations, I am personally not a fan due to its severe lack of features.

Beyond Privacy

For most people, it is more than reasonable to take it upon themselves to at least install the basic 'out-of-the-box' extensions from Part I. There really is no good reason not to, they do not slow your browsers performance (and in fact actually reduce loading times of sites) and protect you from data harvesting advertisers, websites, cookies and even your own Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The extensions here in Part II require a little fiddling around with, so they don't warrant the same 'no excuses' attitude. Though more savvy users will notice I have left out some crucial things. This is on purpose, mostly because this was meant to be a simple, comprehensive look into basic and convenient privacy

I'll finish this off with a mention of some of the more advanced tools. I admit I do not use the following extensions and tools, mostly because I also value convenience and ease-of-use. These following extensions will break some websites, though they are the undisputed champions of protecting your online privacy (in conjunction with the extensions in this guide), security and even granting anonymity (e.g. Tor Browser). 

NoScript

Completely cuts out the use of Javascript from websites, which can leak your information. This breaks most websites functionality, since many rely on JS for many of their features. You can add exceptions to sites you trust, though this is requires more fiddling than many people like to do. 

DuckDuckGo has a non-JS version of their site, though you lose some features.

uMatrix

This extension gives you a crazy amount of control over your browser, from where it is allowed to connect, what type of data is allowed to download, and what kinds of tasks it is allowed to execute. By default this extension operates like NoScript and blocks all 3rd party scripts, and you must create exceptions to allow sites to use them. 

Tor Browser

A fork of the Firefox browser that protects you by bouncing your communications to the internet around a distributed network of 'relays' all around the world. This stops sites from learning your physical location and stops anyone from watching your connection to the internet, as it hides you among the other users who use the network. Unfortunately, some sites do block access to them if you use Tor, and it is markedly slower than your average browser due to how it functions. This browser achieves a degree of anonymity, but still is not perfect.


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