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.

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 and here . Nothing is saved or tracked. 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

So we have (confusingly green means blocked) - 4 advertising requests, 3 analytics requests and 215 content requests.  What 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..


9 thoughts on “How I Wrangled Control Back From My Browser

  1. Adblocking works only as long as only a small percentage of users uses it. If many or all users are following your advices the content or service provider will not earn money any more and will stop providing their services for free. So please rethink your decision to block ads.

  2. It’s not about blocking everything it’s about taking control. In every extension I can whitelist but I refuse to just blindly be tracked and advertised to without exerting some level of awareness and management. Make a site useful and adverts of value and they won’t be blocked.

  3. Have a look at Ghostery (

  4. I do not get your point, if a site is not useful or does not contain content you want to see, why are you visiting this site? And in my opinion if a content provider uses ads to pay his bills blocking the ads is a litte bit like stealing goods in a supermarket.

  5. Again this is about awareness. I visit thousands of sites many of them for the first time and I would be stupid to blindly trust them to track and steal my information without my permission. If a site wants money from me they can ask for it, some sites ask for contributions and if they are useful I supply them (and these extensions ask for contributions). If they don’t ask for money and instead plan to make money off my stupidity that’s not stealing. Do you sit through every advert on TV religiously since it’s only fair as they pay for the TV programs?

    Asking if a site isn’t useful why are you going there makes me wonder if you’ve ever used a search engine.. You know those things that send you to countless unknown sites in the search for content that turns out not to be there but whilst you’re there gathers information from you without you knowing.

    We’re going to have to disagree on this.

  6. Great post Gab. I am also starting to get a bit more paranoid about tracking of my web life. Just don’t like the idea of being manipulated. Sometimes I like the advertising if it is relevant but I see a few too many cases where I visit a site, and then for the next few weeks I see nothing but their adverts. Clever buggers.

    Out of interest are you just using your own VPN services, or one of the commercial options?

    • I use witopia and love it. The same account works on my desktop and mobile and when I was in China they had bypassed ips that weren’t in DNS that go around the firewall restrictions. I’ve been with them 5 years now and have no complaints.

      I agree 100% re tracking , for me it’s all about regaining control of “my” data

  7. Wow - throws 11 - 49 hits at you with each click - most are ads of course but wow - lots of activity there.

  8. I have used Disconnect for some time now and love it. I understand they used green to mean it is working properly to block everything. Where we think red is bad. It is blocking the bad so it is green. it goes red when things arent. Which is unsafe. I know our trained Pavlovian response screws with us.

    And I am very proud you do not use your real birthdate, mothers maiden name and such. Can I self promote that eveyone go watch my Social Identity presentation from SxSW. Less that 20 mins of your time.

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