How I Wrangled Control Back From My Browser

I’ll admit it, I’m a privacy freak.  I limit what information I share publicly, I never give my actual date of birth, mother’s name, or correct answer to any question.  I have dummy mail accounts set up for when sites want me to register and I VPN if I’m anywhere but at home.  I think it’s important to be aware of what’s happening when you’re working in a browser, what happens when you leave tabs open and the degree to which you can and are tracked.  For me the convenience of letting a company know more about me in return for them customising my experience is an insanely unequal exchange.   I also know a lot more now about how Google etc track and use information (thanks to my brother in law Rob for his expertise).

But then again I also refuse to have loyalty cards.  Taking some degree of control back from your browser activity is not only responsible it’s empowering and healthy 🙂

Like notes.ini settings, more is not always better so I’ve gradually built up a handful of extensions that give me more control over my browsing and recently added a couple more that have the added benefit of being fascinating to watch and mostly free.

Toolsbar with Extensions

Extensions

1Password stores my passwords for multiple sites so I never have to reenter them.  I used to use this a lot but much less so since I switched to using password patterns which I change every 4 months.  I have 3 patterns at a time one for “I don’t care if someone gets at this” , one for “this has information on it i’d like to keep secure but nothing financial” (like my IBM registration), one for sites which hold payment information.  Each site has a unique password constructed from a pattern eg “first two letters of site in caps plus the number 1111 plus the letter X in caps” but not that 🙂

Evernote web clipper isn’t about security or privacy but it allows me to snap any browser page into Evernote.  I store all my reference documents personal and business (some encrypted) in Evernote and sync it to my iPad.  It also recognises when I snip a recipe and stores that both in itself and in its companion free iPad app called recipes.

AdBlock blocks ads.  There are sites that simply are unreadable and do not render in Safari unless all the ads are blocked and then they look normal.

AVG Do Not Track prevents sites I visit tracking me and sending information back to social networks and advertisers.  I have the option of allowing tracking but I find leaving this on allows me to clearly see what’s being attempted by sites I visit.

ClicktoPlugin for Safari prevents plugins from loading automatically on any site unless I then click to run them.  Even better it replaces media including flash with HTML5.  Whenever Safari was sucking CPU it was always down to some flash running somewhere, installing this has completely fixed that problem.

My two newest plugins are DuckDuckGo and Disconnect.Me.  DuckDuckGo is a search replacement that honours privacy.  It conducts a simultaneous search of Google and Bing if you want but your searches aren’t filtered (“customised”) by your assumed preferences from your search history.  Read more about it here http://dontbubble.us and here http://donttrack.us . Nothing is saved or tracked.

Disconnect.me is theoretically similar to Do Not Track but much more granular and is showing me more information about what a site is doing.  I’m easy to disappear down the rabbit hole here but take a look at this report from visiting the Facebook homepage

Disconntect.me on Facebook

So we have (confusingly green means blocked) – 4 advertising requests, 3 analytics requests and 215 content requests.  What Disconnect.me does is restrict content that doesn’t come directly from the site and page you visited.  They recommend you do not block content unless you’re 100% sure as it may affect site rendering.  At the bottom you can see they claim to save significant time and bandwidth in page loading too.  I don’t have any issues with Bandwidth myself and it’s not something I’m that worried about so I honestly haven’t tested if that’s true.  For each section you can expand and see what has been blocked and choose to whitelist sites.

My favourite feature is the visualize page button which gives me this rendering of sites requesting access and which ones are blocked.  I can mouse over any icon, see the site and whitelist / blacklist it.

So that’s it.  I can’t think of anything I’m missing (that frustrates me and i’d like to take control of) but I’m open to suggestions..

Visualisation of Site Requests