Your First Privacy Tools
I’ve compiled this guide to help you take back control of your own data so you can return to a life where your privacy is valued. It’s basic. If you know nothing or very little about protecting your privacy, then this is for you.
The guide focuses on ‘plug and play’ solutions that need little or no configuration. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list and there are many tools out there.
These are though, a great place to start…
Privacy Badger for desktop browsing on Chrome, Firefox and Opera
There are plenty of adblocking extensions on the market but I use EFF’s Privacy Badger. I like it because it focuses on blocking tracking software rather than ads themselves and because it’s creator is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a not-for-profit organisation that champions user privacy.
In its own words, Privacy Badger is designed to “ block any tracker or ad that violates the principle of user consent”. It’s easy to download and install and works by operating a traffic light system of domain lists.
Those on the red list are blocked third party domains. Those on the yellow list are domains that appear to track you across the Internet but which are also important for some web functionality. In these cases, Privacy Badger allows the domain but tries to filter out any tracking software. Domains on the green list have not been identified as trying to track your Internet usage and so, have been allowed to operate.
You can view Privacy Badger’s work by accessing the settings menu from where you can manually override the app’s own decision making. You can alo add domains to a whitelist that stops Privacy Badger from touching them.
As well as blocking trackers and ads, Privacy Badger also blocks canvas fingerprinters, which are devilish systems that track your device by assigning it a unique number rather than by using cookies.
Brave for browsing on Android
On my mobile devices, I’ve found it easier to improve privacy by switching to a new browser. After some looking around, I’ve landed on Brave, which blocks ads, trackers and fingerprinters.
Brave is a Chromium-based browser which makes it easy for Chrome users to make the switch. There’s virtually no difference between the two from a user perspective, except the little lion logo that sits at the top of the screen.
The lion gives you access to Brave’s settings and a performance report (number of ads blocked etc) for the site being viewed.
At the flick of a switch you can block ads and trackers, 3rd party cookies and apply fingerprinting protection. On top of all that, you can very easily turn on HTTPS Everywhere, which encrypts all communication with every site you visit.
There’s no doubt in my mind that mobile browsing feels safer when using Brave but it does sometimes crashes for no particular reason. Whilst annoying, it’s a price I’m willing to pay for my privacy.
Better: blocks trackers operating in Safari for iPhone, iPad and Mac
For my sins, I’m not often an iOS user, so we’ll have to trust Aral Balkan on this one.
Aral is a champion of privacy and, along with his partner, they’ve set up, ind.ie, to be a developer with a strict ethical design policy. Their flagship product is Better, which in their own words is:
“a tracker blocker for Safari on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It protects you from behavioural advertising and malicious web content by enforcing the principles of Ethical Design.
“We work for you, not for the advertising industry. We built Better because we’re tired of the deceptive practices of other “ad blockers” like AdBlock Plus (ABP) and Ghostery. Ghostery tells you they protect you from advertising and yet they get paid by the advertising industry. ABP has an “acceptable ads” policy that whitelists ads from the biggest trackers (like Google) in exchange for meeting some superficial criteria and lots of money. In contrast, we make money directly from sales of Better. You pay for Better and you’re our customer. It’s an honest and straightforward exchange.
“To find out more about how Better differs from other blockers, please read our introductory blog post.”
TOR for politically sensitive research
You may have read about TOR (The Onion Router) in the media. It’s a system that was created by the US military to avoid Internet users being located or identified.
Tor achieves this by passing a user’s traffic from node to node before it ultimately gets to the destination server. Anyone trying to trace it back would have a very hard time doing so.
The great thing about TOR is it’s browser-based and so gives a genuinely high level of protection without the need for you to have technical skills.
In my experience, TOR can be quite slow which is understandable given the crazy route your traffic will be taking. As a result, I find it very useful for research but not particularly good for multimedia or social platforms.
In today’s environment, I highly recommend downloading the TOR browser for any sensitive research that you want to do but bear in mind that it doesn’t work well with Google; at least, not in my experience.
Which brings me to my last suggestion for safer, more private Internet use…ditch Google.
Duckduckgo for searching without tracking
Google is a verb. That’s almost all you need to know. Google’s synonymity with Internet search has blinded many of us to the fact that other search engines exist.
Why don’t we use them? Because they’re not Google.
The ubiquity aside, the big problem with Google is that it tracks you everywhere. Just look at your Privacy Badger settings if you want proof.
We’re so habituated to Google that switching is more akin to giving up smoking than to making a regular consumer choice but I urge you to give it a go and when you do, try DuckDuckGo instead.
DuckDuckGo promises not to track you anywhere. It just takes your search term and delivers results, no record is kept and no cookie delivered. I still use Google from time to time but then I also dabble in other search engines too. One of the secrets to a successful search is diversity. Google isn’t the only platform that delivers useful results.
To help wean myself off Google, I’ve set DuckDuckGo as the home page and default search engine on all my browsers. DDG delivers results in a Google-like manner, so the aesthetics are no longer an issue and eight times out of ten, the top ten results are fine.
Google is a hard habit to break but DDG gives you a good reason to start breaking it now.