The Web has come a long way since the days of AOL and Netscape in the late ’90s. We now have websites that can responsively adapt their design to suit the device they’re being viewed on, collect metrics, and more. And yet, there’s the dark side of the advancements–ads that can circumvent ad-blockers, fingerprinting, and mass surveillance. In Part 2, we talked about changes you can make to improve your online privacy. Here, we’ll talk about how to improve your experience as a member of the Internet.
We’ll start with the main way people interact with the Internet–a web browser. In 2022, with ads everywhere and Manifest v3 coming, Firefox is becoming increasingly obvious as the browser choice. But while Firefox does help protect your privacy by, for example, notifying you when a website wants to track you through the use of a canvas, it doesn’t do as much as it can out of the box. This is where extensions come in. We talked about the major ones, but here are the ones I use.
- uBlock Origin – The best ad blocker out there.
- Decentraleyes – Removes tracking through the use of centralized content delivery
- Privacy Badger – Removes trackers
- ClearURLs – Removes parameters from URLs that can be used to track you. I’ve found this a bit iffy, but other options aren’t any better.
- Bitwarden – A free and open source password manager
- SponsorBlock – Blocks sponsor segments in YouTube videos
- Nuke Anything – Allows you to right-click elements and nuke them from the website. Great for annoying popups.
about:config and user.js
This is a little more advanced than extensions, but allows you to more finely control your browser. This is Firefox-only, but you should be using Firefox anyway. In the Firefox URL bar, type about:config and hit Enter. Accept the risk and continue. There’s a LOT you can change here. You won’t see anything by default, since Firefox hides things to save you from yourself. For example, type
browser.contentblocking.category and set it to
Programmers among you might know that this a bad way of doing things. What if you move to a different computer and want to carry your settings with you? Firefox has you covered, through the use of
user.js. In your URL bar, type about:support and hit Enter. You should see an entry called Profile Folder. Open that folder and create a file called user.js. You could write your own, but it’s probably better for you to use someone else’s. I use BetterFox, but there’s also Arkenfox. Personally, I find Arkenfox a little too aggressive and that it breaks more sites than I’d like.
VPNs provide another layer of tracking protection, namely from your ISP and the government. You should look for VPNs with a no-log policy and that have reputable histories. I personally use ProtonVPN, but there’s also Mullvad. As of now, I believe those are the only two that meet the highest criteria of privacy. There is Mozilla VPN, but that seems to use Mullvad in the backend, so you could use that if you want to support Mozilla. VPNs can also block ads and trackers, though they’re not always effective, and it’s best to use browser extensions for that purpose.
That’s really it. A few small tweaks that might take 20 minutes in total will make your Web experience a LOT better. As for mobile, it’s a little different. On iOS, all browsers use WebKit as the engine, so there’s little you can do there. I’d recommend using a VPN that can block ads and trackers like ProtonVPN, and maybe something like Disconnect or Adguard. On Android, you can still use Firefox with the extensions we talked about, although about:config may not be possible.