Linfield Free Press

Securing Your Browser

Published by Cale Byers on

Filed under Tech

Rationale:

Widespread, targeted advertising and cross-device tracking reveal your thoughts, behavior, and purchases, both online and in retail stores. (If you have a Gmail account, see what Google might know about your purchase history).

If you need help removing Mac cleaner software, obnoxious browser extensions, other mysterious pop-ups, get in touch! I'll help you out and offer to install the same software listed in this article. Limiting browser surveillance and other fingerprinting techniques will improve your privacy, along with the security, speed, and battery life of your device. It's also worth checking out extra security software to keep your computer safe.

Most browsers’s default settings leave some privacy issues, but you can install content-blockers for additional protection. Firefox and Safari have some built-in protection, and there are others like Brave and Vivaldi, too. I prefer Firefox, since it’s very fast and secure, offers many extensions, and your preferences are easily configurable. The latest versions of Firefox are actually better than Chrome in terms of memory consumption and page speed. The browser is developed by Mozilla, a non-profit organization that promotes “people before profit.”

Recommended software:

For general ad-blocking, try uBlock Origin. It uses less memory than Adblock Plus, so your device runs faster and conserves battery, and they don’t show you “acceptable ads,” avoiding a potential conflict of interest.

should you pay for ad-free experiences?If you’re able to pay for a service or website to turn off ads, it helps demonstrate that advertising isn’t necessary for revenue. I buy games to avoid their obnoxious ads, but I still use DNS blocking to control potential privacy violations. It’s often the case that websites continue to profile your behavior, even when you have a paid subscription. When I read the NY Times, pages would be slowed down by advertising software, despite their hefty subscription fees. Ad-blocking software is necessary when companies are dishonest about their website’s behavior.

Decentraleyes gives your browser a local folder for popular third party scripts, so you don’t end up downloading them over and over for various websites. This saves data, speeds up page rendering, and may enhance your privacy, too.

HTTPS Everywhere will upgrade unencrypted network connections when possible, so webpages can’t be manipulated or inspected by others. Some device certificates, commonly issued by corporate networks (universities, workplaces, etc) will break your encryption with a Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. If you’re curious or suspect malfeasance, there’s a nice test for MITM attacks, provided by Cloudflare.

For “advanced” users (nerdy extremists with free time on their hands), I recommend uMatrix (same developer as uBlock Origin), which allows very fine control of website behavior, and it dramatically improves website speeds. Many things will break until you adjust the settings, but it’s worth the control and improved privacy. You can block Google Fonts, Facebook comments, or other annoying things for every website, which is pretty awesome.

In general, I recommend Firefox for laptops or Android phones, and Safari for iOS devices. Regardless of your device, Google Chrome should be avoided, because it serves the business interests of Google and aggressive monitors your behavior. Google doesn’t appreciate efforts to resist surveillance, so you can’t use extensions on Chrome for Android or iOS, meaning you have no control over your privacy, without using a network firewall or DNS filtering. Therefore, Firefox is your only real option for Android phones. The default browsers on many Android phones are absolutely horrible, both in their design and lack of privacy. To reiterate, if you aren’t using Firefox on Android, you have almost zero control over what happens when you browse the internet.

iOS Safari is more customizable than iOS Firefox, with content blocking apps available. I prefer the Adguard app, or you can buy their Pro version for excellent DNS filtering. iOS Firefox has basic tracking protection, but it’s not configurable. It’s either on or off, with no further adjustments based on particular sites. I use both browsers but for different reasons. In Safari, I've disabled Javascript and cookies, which breaks some websites. Then I use Firefox for anything that requires me to login (cookies required) or run Javascript, and it's a decent way to reduce surveillance.

Reconsider some Extensions

Other browser extensions, like Grammarly, spell-check everything you type online. You have no privacy, and your language is analyzed for being grammatically “correct.” This presents obvious risks if discussing confidential topics.

Another risky category is coupon or price comparison extensions, which also monitor your browsing history and typically sell information about you. Consider turning them off and only using while you shop online, or just delete extensions that are incompatible with your privacy.

As mentioned above, if you need help removing any obnoxious software or cleaning up your computer, get in touch (my author bio has a phone and email), and I'll help you out.