In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica story, I took a hard look at how far I had let Facebook penetrate my online presence. As I'm generally concerned about single points of failure (or compromise), I am not one to use social logins. I use a password manager and create unique logins for every site (and you should, too).
What I was most perturbed about was the pervasive intrusion Facebook was having on my digital life. I uninstalled the Facebook mobile app almost immediately after diving into the Cambridge Analytica story. I also disconnected all apps, games, and websites from Facebook. Yes, this will change your experience on Facebook, but it will also protect your privacy. As a veteran with friends spread out across the globe, maintaining the social connectivity of Facebook is important to me.
I went about the task of scrutinizing other services as well. I checked Google, Twitter, GitHub, and more for any unused connected applications. But I know that's not enough. I need my browser to be proactive in preventing behavior that violates my privacy. I began the task of figuring out how best to do that. Sure, I can lock down a browser, but I need to make the sites and tools I use work while trying to keep them from leaking data.
Following are five tools that will protect your privacy while using your browser. The first three extensions are available for Firefox and Chrome, while the latter two are only available for Firefox.
Privacy Badger has been my go-to extension for quite some time. Do other content or ad blockers do a better job? Maybe. The problem with a lot of content blockers is that they are "pay for play." Meaning they have "partners" that get whitelisted for a fee. That is the antithesis of why content blockers exist. Privacy Badger is made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit entity with a donation-based business model. Privacy Badger promises to learn from your browsing habits and requires minimal tuning. For example, I have only had to whitelist a handful of sites. Privacy Badger also allows granular controls of exactly which trackers are enabled on what sites. It's my #1, must-install extension, no matter the browser.
DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials
The search engine DuckDuckGo has typically been privacy-conscious. DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials works across major mobile devices and browsers. It's unique in the sense that it grades sites based on the settings you give them. For example, Facebook gets a D, even with Privacy Protection enabled. Meanwhile, chrisshort.net gets a B with Privacy Protection enabled and a C with it disabled. If you're not keen on EFF or Privacy Badger for whatever reason, I would recommend DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials (choose one, not both, as they essentially do the same thing).
HTTPS Everywhere is another extension from the EFF. According to HTTPS Everywhere, "Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS, but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site. The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems by using clever technology to rewrite requests to these sites to HTTPS." While a lot of sites and browsers are getting better about implementing HTTPS, there are a lot of sites that still need help. HTTPS Everywhere will try its best to make sure your traffic is encrypted.
NoScript Security Suite
Facebook Container makes Firefox the only browser where I will use Facebook. "Facebook Container works by isolating your Facebook identity into a separate container that makes it harder for Facebook to track your visits to other websites with third-party cookies." This means Facebook cannot snoop on activity happening elsewhere in your browser. Suddenly those creepy ads will stop appearing so frequently (assuming you uninstalled the Facebook app from your mobile devices). Using Facebook in an isolated space will prevent any additional collection of data. Remember, you've given Facebook data already, and Facebook Container can't prevent that data from being shared.
These are my go-to extensions for browser privacy. What are yours? Please share them in the comments.