With growing talk of companies monitoring people’s Internet use and malicious websites stealing data, it may be a good time to begin taking Web privacy more seriously. The next generation of Web browsers will include more features along these lines, but in the meantime it may be wise for users to take matters into their own hands.
Through online tracking, companies can gain a broad list of information about each user. They can know who their Facebook friends are, where their computer is located, and their interests; as well as anything from the health problems they may have, to what their political stances are.
Luckily the Firefox Web browser makes hiding this information easy with its surplus of user-submitted extensions. If you want to become completely invisible online you’ll need a bit more than what’s found here, but using a combination of the following free tools will give a good push in the right direction.
Companies track the activity of users online through what are known as “Super-Cookies,” which are small bits of data that are stored from each website a user visits. BetterPrivacy can safeguard users from this unwanted tracking by automatically removing these cookies each time a user closes their Web browser.
It specializes in two main types of such cookies, namely those left from a computer’s Flash animation plugin, and another type called “DOM Storage” which are similarly used to track the online activities of users.
There are unseen activities that take place each time a user visits a website, particularly from companies that track users online. Similar to the BetterPrivacy extension, Ghostery targets this form of online tracking.
Ghostery displays a list of Web publishers, ad networks, and companies that are following you as you visit each site. It also lets users learn more about each company and has a feature to block access to companies that they would rather not have tracking them.
Scroogle SSL is able to keep a user’s online searches through Google private by acting as a channel between the user and the search engine. It is able to hide a user’s computer address (their IP), does not allow Google to set up a tracking cookie, and disables it from knowing if a user is making continued searches.
When a user searches the Web through Scroogle SSL, it will communicate with Google for them, which will send back the search results and information to keep track of the user. Scroogle SSL will give the user their results, but will discard the tracking information. The extension can be added to the search bar of a handful of Web browsers including Firefox and Google Chrome.
Brought about through collaboration between online rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the anonymous browsing experts at the Tor Project, HTTPS Everywhere is able to encrypt users’ Internet connections while they browse a set of major websites.
The Firefox extension, which can be installed for free, keeps the Internet activity of users secure from prying eyes. Unfortunately, many do not allow for security of this type, so it does not work everywhere. Some content on the sites may also not be visible. It does, however, work on major websites including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Search.
Each time a user clicks a link to visit a new website, the new website is alerted to where the link came from. This only has a minor impact on a user’s privacy, but those who would rather not give any ground for online tracking will appreciate RefControl.
The RefControl Firefox extension lets users choose for themselves what is sent to the websites each time they click a link. It lets users choose which websites can or cannot see this information. It also allows users to edit what is sent, so they can send a joke rather than details on their Internet activity, which will be recorded in the website’s log.
WorldIP & Flagfox
There are malicious websites on the Internet that can harm users. Knowing which country they are based in and being able to recognize inconsistencies in their data, however, can unmask criminals before you go too far into their lair.
WorldIP can detect what type of website you are visiting, where it is located, and all the IP address locations that are being run from its server. Combine this with Flagfox, an extension that can run safety checks, validation, and check registration of websites, and you’re looking at a potent mix.
NoScript can prevent this by only allowing these various codes to work on websites that the user has designated as trustworthy. It should be noted that running NoScript will disable several visual elements on certain websites, including videos. After spending a bit of time choosing what is trusted, however, it will become less of a burden and will offer a high level of security.