Privacy on the web — take back control

Privacy on the web, does it even exist? Not really, at least not without the right tools. The web isn’t simple HTML and CSS, but there is also JavaScript and even services that track your behavior. Websites use these so called trackers for multiple reasons. Some are used to see all kinds of stats about visitors, like Google Analytics (Medium uses it as well). Others are meant to build a profile for ads. Facebook also tracks you all over the web, for example when a website has a like button or uses Facebook comments.

So if you want to regain some of your online privacy, there are some things you can do. You could enable “do not track” in your browser settings, but this is just a request, which means that websites simply can (and will) ignore this. To really be effective, you need extensions or add-ons.

Extensions

Ghostery

Ghostery blocks trackers on the web. You can manually select which trackers it should block, which is nice, because sometimes you need to allow some to be able to see comments for example. So not only can you see what trackers are active on a site, you can also block them. On Android, they offer a browser with similar functionality. While it also blocks some ads, it’s not a full ad blocker and you shouldn’t use it as such.

Similar to Ghostery is Disconnect, which is open source.

uBlock Origin

While not as well known as Adblock Plus, uBlock Origin (Chrome, Firefox) should be a little easier on your computer’s RAM and CPU. It does not only let you block ads, but has some privacy filters as well. So yes, if you don’t want to block ads, you could only use privacy and malware filters.

NoScript

NoScript is a Firefox-only add-on which allows you to block JavaScript, flash and other scripts on sites. For what it’s worth, Edward Snowden uses it. Flash is known to be vulnerable to security exploits. You might also see some performance improvements, but more and more sites use JavaScript for basic functions like a menu, so some things could be broken if you block everything.

Chrome alternatives: ScriptSafe and NoScript

Search

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a search engine like Google, but DDG “doesn’t track you”. This means that it does not collect and share your search data. Don’t expect a dull white page with search results however. DDG is pretty smart and has some unique functions. For example, typing “!a” immediately takes you to Amazon without showing search results.

Browser tweaks

Tracking Protection in Firefox

Recently, Mozilla introduced Tracking Protection when browsing in private mode in Firefox. It uses a list provided by Disconnect to block trackers. The good news is that there is a trick to also enable it outside of private mode. You need to enter the hidden settings within Firefox by visiting “about:config” and set “privacy.trackingprotection.enabled” to “true” (double click).