Fighting Advertisers: Tools to Keep your Browsing Private and Ad Free

Blocking internet ads, I know, controversial.  Some say ads are literally Hitler, others say that if you use ad blocker you are literally Hitler and are embarking on a transfer of wealth by stealing from the great websites of the world.

There is lot to be said, but I’ll leave that for another time.  I’m skipping the manifesto stage and handing out weapons. Here are a few browser add-ons to keep advertisers off your back. You can block ads and you can block and interrupt marketer’s infrastructure to prevent them from collecting intelligence on you.

UBlock Origin  Firefox | Chrome

UBlock Origin is a lightweight ad-blocker.  This add-on, at least in the court of public opinion has dethroned the king: Ad block Plus (ABP however still has more users).  Ad Block Plus was (and for many) was the one-stop shop for all ad-blocking needs.  It’s hardcore community become disenchanted when ABP started allowing some non-intrusive advertisment.

UBlock Origin is regarded as more efficient than ABP.  Although I’ve used both, they both get the job done.  Once you install UBlock Origin, it starts blocking right away.  Ad blockers typically have a white-list so you can white-list sites you want to support with ad views and you can still protect yourself from the rough and wild world of unregulated ads. That’s it, there is no reason not to get it.  You can still white-list sites you like.  It blocks ads and prevents an avenue of attack from malicious web elements.

So blocking ads are pretty easy.  But to protect yourself further you should acquire some privacy enhancers:

Privacy Enhancers

Advertisers don’t just want to show you ads, they want to know about you.  It’s important to proactively fight this with privacy-enhancing add-ons.

Ghostery used to be the gold-standard in privacy protection, but Ghostery has a less than holy business model. Here is a twist more mind blowing than the fact that Darth Vader is really Luke’s dad: Ghostery’s parent company, formerly known as Evidon, is really a marketing company. Ghostery harvests it’s users usage statistics and sells it to corporations (called Ghost Rank, can be turned off).   Ghostery denies that the data is sold to advertisers to help advertisers target their ads better.  Instead Ghostery is about making the ad experience better for marketers. That’s enough to keep me skeptical, but if you want to learn more about Ghostery, go here.

Privacy Badger  Firefox | Chrome 

Privacy Badger was created by the EFF a group with an excellent track record on privacy and digital rights. Privacy Badger basically does what Ghostery does, but doesn’t sell your data to marketers.  It focuses on third-party cookies that track you through different sites and sites that don’t honour the do-no-track.  It works pretty well.

HTTPS Everywhere

Without getting into the technical details too much, there is HTTP and HTTPS, the difference is the inclusion of the S at the end. You can tell by looking in your address bar,  for instance on this site, it is https://wordpress.com.  If there is an “S”, good, you are protected by SSL (Secure Socket Layer).   HTTPS is better than just HTTP because it is encrypted. Data transferred by SSL cannot be read by third parties. It works sorta like an envelope in the mail, the address on the front and can be read by anyone, but the contents inside are obscured. Most sites have HTTPS but also have non-encrypted HTTP. HTTPS everywhere makes the site use HTTPS if it is available.

Profiles on Facebook used to be extremely vulnerable to users who were on a public network and weren’t using HTTPS. I was hanging out at a party, I connected to their wifi and hijacked a profile of a fellow party goer and posted a “funny status” (it wasn’t really that funny).  I didn’t have to resort to that fake hacking, i.e., Oh they left their Facebook open on the computer, look at me, I’m hacking!!! Look at this ridiculous lewd comment I just posted LOL!

Facebook has enabled HTTPS by default now, but many sites don’t force their users on HTTPS.   So this addon is good to have.

Noscript (Firefox)

This is the heavy hitter of the privacy maximizer.  Many websites work by using scripts, they do all the fancy things, they also do a lot of tracking and scripts will be the main suspect if nefarious activity is afoot on a website.  NoScript blocks all scripts by defaults and leaves you to manually approve each one.  Tedious, a little bit, secure?  Yeah.  Since consumerism has helped accentuate the spoon-feeding nature of our society, many will just skip it. Too hard to protect my privacy, too hard to protect from malware and security threats, welp. Hey, this prince from the ministry of mines in Nigeria, wants to know my mother’s maiden name, credit card number and social? I won the Spanish Lottery?!

When someone steals their banking info, or accidentally gets ransom-ware on their computer,  spending 30 minutes learning how to use security on the computer will sound like eternal bliss.

non-browser advice
You can update the host files on your computer to thwart advertisers on your desktop, not just the browser.  Some applications like Skype have ads in their own program, downloading host files can help you block those.

Note on browser. 

Many have embraced Google chrome.  While it is a technically fine browser, the closed source nature, the fact that Google is an advertising hydra that consumes all data, means that Chrome isn’t privacy friendly. Firefox is entirely open source, lending itself to higher privacy and security credentials.

 

 

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