With billions of records exposed in data breaches this past year, and with more and more of our digital lives tracked by big business, what are some concrete steps you can take to protect your online privacy? In this post, we’ll talk about three extensions you can add to your browser to enhance your browsing experience and protect your privacy.
How much do advertisers know about you? Using Ghostery is a good first step to finding out what trackers are on the websites you visit. Ghostery is a free browser extension that allows you to see and block trackers, advertising tags, and site analytics tags. With an extensive tracker database and simple setup, Ghostery provides a lot of flexibility to selectively block trackers while browsing. When a website loads, the icon indicates the number of trackers on the website, and by clicking on the icon, a list of all trackers is shown. Users can choose to block individual trackers, or select the “block all” option. As a user add trackers to the block list, browser loading times often improve. Users can protect their privacy by blocking trackers, since advertisers will not be able to track a user’s visits between websites, or be able to compile a unique dossier of browsing activities.
Ever had an annoying video ad play when you went to a website? AdBlock Plus might be for you. It is a browser extension that will block banner ads, pop-ups, and trackers. Developed as an open-source project, it is free for users to install. AdBlock Plus works by filtering websites through a user-defined filter list to remove ads. Users can easily “whitelist” websites, so that ads are not blocked, and websites can also be manually added to a block list.
Sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension increases security for users by encrypting communication with websites. Many websites have moved to the more secure HTTPS option, but depending on how the website is configured, your communication with the website may not be fully secure and encrypted. HTTPS Everywhere can fix this by forcing the website to use HTTPS even if encryption is only partially enabled on the site. This encryption can prevent data leakage from the site, and can help prevent “man in the browser” attacks to steal your data. Users also have the option to block all unencrypted website traffic, but this will often mean a large number of websites will be blocked.
These are just a few of the ways you can protect your privacy online. Here some examples when it comes to mobile browsing:
Brave Browser, available both for computers and mobile devices, offers a built-in privacy ecosystem in one sleek package. The mobile version comes pre-configured with a number of privacy enhancing options turned on by default, including HTTPS everywhere, ad and tracker blocking, and third-party cookie blocking. Additional options like browser fingerprint protection are easily configured. Offering a simple way to signal privacy protection, when the browser is configured to use the Brave site shield settings, the Brave lion logo at the top of the browser turns orange. When the shield is turned off, the logo turns gray. The browser is fast and intuitive to use, and the all-one privacy enhancements make it a winner.
We previously reviewed the Ghostery browser extension in part 1. True to form, Ghostery is also active in the mobile sphere with their Ghostery browser app. The mobile browser offers similar functionality to the extension. Users can easily see how many trackers are on a given site, and can easily add them to a blocklist. The Ghostery mobile browser does not have built in ad blocking, and pages load somewhat slowly, since the app also has to recognize and list the trackers as they load. On some sites, the browser will intermittently try to reload, most likely triggered by a tracker loading at the same time. While not the best browser for speed, the Ghostery app provides users with an easily-quantifiable way to identify the trackers used by websites to track user browsing habits.
As with Ghostery, the team at Adblock Plus has entered the mobile arena with the Adblock Browser. This browser offers a no-frills mobile experience, and as promised, ads are blocked. While faster than the Ghostery browser, the Adblock browser lags behind the Brave browser for page loading time. While some users might appreciate the out of sight, out of mind design of the ad blocking functionality, others might like to see more indications that the browser is in fact blocking ads. If blocking annoying ads is your main concern, the Adblock browser is a satisfactory option.
Of course, users do more with their phones than browse websites. Come back soon for part three for tips on secure messaging.