We can make a stab at reducing the information we give away in our web browsing
When my computer support clients ask me which internet browser I prefer I say “Firefox“. The main reason is that there is a wide range of “add-ons” to tweak how it works. In particular, I am interested in add-ons that tend to help with online privacy. When someone then asks “what are the add-ons that you use”, I can’t remember. Hence, this blog post.
I can’t be certain how effective these add-ons are, or be certain that there aren’t better alternatives out there. It’s also quite possible that there’s an overlap between some of these add-ons. Be that as it may, this is the list of privacy and security add-ons that currently live in my own Firefox browser:
Adblock Plus removes online advertising so that you usually see blank space where the ads used to appear. There are some websites that won’t allow you to visit their site unless you disable this add-on. No doubt this is because they generate income from people clicking on the ads that this add-on hides.
Protects passwords, payments and privacy online.
Displays a country flag in the address bar depicting the location of the current website’s server. It also provides a multitude of tools such as site safety checks, whois, translation, similar sites, validation, URL shortening,
The main use of this add-on is that it displays (in the address bar) a small flag of the country in which the current website resides. This can act as a warning when a website’s address is somewhere other than you might expect it to be. This is just one of those little indicators that help you build up some sort of a picture as to whether you think you can trust the site. If you think a website isn’t what it purports to be then it could be trying to exploit you – eg by trying to get malware onto your computer. A website calling itself “www.english-cheeses.co.uk” might seem a bit suspicious if you see that it is based in Russia!
Blocks tracking technology on websites. It can display all the tracking technology found on a web page and display a list of it so you can get some idea of just how much tracking technology websites use. I have sometimes seen up to 30 different tracking technologies being used on a single web page. See the illustration for Ghostery’s findings of the tracking technology on the home page of the UK version of Huffington Post. Note that the line through each item acts as confirmation that Ghostery has blocked that item from sucking data from my visit.
This is designed to foil search engines’ attempts to build a profile of your web surfing habits. I like the way this one works. Instead of disabling anything, TrackMeNot does just the opposite: it sends random requests to the search engine so that your real surfing habits are hidden amongst all the bogus searches generated by the add-on. This is quite invisible, of course. You don’t see your browser searching for seemingly random websites!
Online privacy is also helped, of course, if you configure Firefox options to help protect your privacy and security (see illustration).
You might ask why I don’t use “Private Browsing Mode”. The answer to that is simple – it is of no use at all in stopping websites from sucking information from your visit. Private Browsing mode is there purely to remove the evidence on your own computer of your browsing history. It does nothing whatever to protect your privacy and security online. Click this link for more information on Firefox Private Browsing.
You might also ask why I’m only covering add-ons for Firefox. There are two simple reasons – (a) it’s the browser I use (partly because there are so many add-ons available) and (b) it would take the rest of my Saturday to check whether these add-ons are available for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, etc. However, if you’d like to know more about any of these add-ons, just click on the link contained in the name for each add-on in the listing above. It won’t be difficult to track down whether any particular add-on is available for your own favourite browser.