Privacy is a big concern of mine. Just as I don’t want my neighbors to be able to look through my appartment’s windows and watch my every doing, I don’t want companies to observe what I’m doing while surfing the web. You certainly would feel uncomfortable if you had no curtains covering your bedroom windows. Yet so many don’t value privacy when it comes to our online lives. Unfortunately, privacy is not compatible with using Google Chrome. Google’s entire business model literally is to collect data and sell advertisements. I understand why Chrome is so popular and why many consider it to be the best browser (although I doubt they spent much thought on the matter before arriving at that conclusion). I used Chrome for the longest time myself. Yet much has changed for the worse and it would be unwise to stick with Chrome just out of habit. In this article I want to present you a better browser and a collection of browser extensions I currently use.
The Browser I Use
I recently switched to Firefox. I always wanted to ditch Google Chrome for obvious privacy reasons. And because it is a memory hog. And most importantly, because Google is very soon going to disable ad blockers. However, Firefox was unusable on my machine running macOS, and Safari lacked the extensions I was accustomed to. Therefore, I was stuck using Google Chrome. Fortunately, Firefox gained huge performance improvements with version 70, so I can now finally use Firefox.1
Update January 2020: Google not only disabled ad blockers but now also intends to deprecate cookies. While this may sound good, it really isn’t. The reason being: Cookies are stored on the user’s computer and can thus be easily deleted by the user, i.e., they are not under Google’s control. Google is well on its way to much more sinister user tracking than merely using stone-age technology like cookies. Gone are the “Don’t Be Evil” days. Another reason to finally ditch Google Chrome.
I generally like to use Safari, because Safari is very efficient and uses very little resources. However, I watch a lot of YouTube videos and without the uBlock Origin extension (see below) YouTube is just intolerable. Unfortunately, even Safari 14 with its API changes will not support uBlock Origin.
The only feature I miss from Chromium-based web browsers—besides some extensions such as Session Buddy and The Great Suspender—is that Chrome or Chromium-based browsers (e.g., Brave, Microsoft Edge or Vivaldi), in contrast to Firefox or Safari, display the time in the browsing history when exactly I visited a specific site. I have to admit, those timestamps are extremely handy when I’ve procrastinated again and want to reconstruct where the last hour(s) went 😃
If you insist on using Google Chrome, consider turning off syncing your bookmarks, browser history, open tabs, etc., with your Google Account and keep everything local.
My Thoughts on Brave
Brave claims to be a browser focused around privacy that blocks ads and trackers by default, doesn’t disclose your search history to Google, and has cool features like built-in Tor support for when you need to research something really sensitive (e.g., a health issue). It now even supports the extensions originally developed Google Chrome, meaning you can install any extension from the Chrome Web Store. One of my biggest gripes about Safari and even Firefox is that they don’t support all the extensions I know and love from Google Chrome. However, there are many controversies about one of the founders being a homophobe, the endeavor to push Brave’s own cryptocurrency on it’s users, and to replace other people’s ads with its own. In addition, I found earlier versions of Brave to be even more of a performance hog than Google Chrome, which is why Brave couldn’t replace Chrome for me at the time. At least the performance issues are gone in current versions of Brave, however. Brave gained huge performance improvements since I last checked and is now a fast and usable browser on my machine.
You shouldn’t use Brave for its Tor support though, since there was an implementation error in Brave. If you want to use Tor, use the Tor browser. Fewer layers in the stack of one software building on top of another means fewer opportunities for things to go wrong, and to get things right is mission-critical when the entire point of using Tor is to be anonymous.
The Extensions I Use
Here are the browser extensions without which I personally wouldn’t surf the web anymore:
- uBlock Origin: Chrome, Firefox — the best ad blocker
- HTTPS Everywhere: Chrome, Firefox — ensures that secure connections are preferred to insecure connections
- DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials: Chrome, Firefox — sets your search engine to DuckDuckGo and shows you a Privacy Grade rating when you visit a website
- Decentraleyes: Chrome, Firefox — complements regular content-blockers
- Privacy Badger: Chrome, Firefox — complementary ad blocker
- Cookie AutoDelete: Chrome, Firefox — deletes cookies (and thus automatically logs you out of your accounts) after leaving a domain to prevent sites from tracking you
- h264ify: Chrome, Firefox
For additional privacy-centered extensions see PrivacyToolsIO.
If you really want to take blocking ads to the next level, check out my post explaining how you can filter out ads on the DNS level using Pi-Hole on a Raspberry Pi. What this means is that, instead of loading ads with your router and then blocking them on your computer, your router won’t even load them in the first place. This way, you filter out ads even for your mobile devices.
Why You Should Care
Before you close this website because you have “nothing to hide”, please know that virtually any pornography website you frequent sends personal and highly sensitive data about you to an average of seven third-party domains, i.a., Google, Facebook, and Oracle. Google alone had trackers on 74 percent of the examined pornography sites.
In most cases, these trackers help sites identify and classify repeat visitors.
Big Brother is watching you. It is beyond me how—when you speak with your friends, family, or even co-workers—seemingly noone gives a damn about this.
What these companies might be doing with pornography-site browsing data is a mystery. Oracle, which owns a number of large data brokers and has been called a “privacy deathstar,” could, for example add data collected by trackers to its current profiles. In the cases of Google and Facebook, which refuse to host pornographic sexual content on a number of their platforms, it’s not always clear why they are collecting such sensitive information, even if unintentionally.
Strangely, such companies when caught red-handed almost always react as follows. Very reassuring …
Oracle did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
You still might think, “What do I care? Let them track me. They already know all this stuff anyway.” In that case, just watch the following video.
If you know of other interesting browser extensions, why don’t you let me (and others) know in the comment section below? Thanks, and take care.
In case you’re interested in the details, macOS lacks APIs for partial compositing, which is why Firefox always rendered the entire page instead of doing it efficiently like Safari and Chrome do. This in turn melted my CPU and caused my MacBook’s fans to go crazy. With version 70, the Firefox team finally implemented a more efficient solution for macOS users. ↩︎