Online Privacy – 1 – Browser Basics

Online Privacy Matters

Your web browser has access to a lot more information about you and your online activities than you might think. Details of your identity, location, activities, habits and tendencies could be (and probably are already being) shared with, leaked to or collected by governments, businesses, criminals and others. If you thought that clearing your cookies, cache and browsing history was enough then think again. That might prevent your spouse from discovering what you’ve been up to online – if he or she hasn’t installed computer spy software on your device. It would do nothing at all to prevent your online activities from being tracked, monitored and recorded by your ISP or law enforcement.

Web Browsers and Online Privacy

Our server detects that you’re using the following web browser, but we’re only using a very simple script that asks your browser what it is. Your browser tells a lot more when asked the right things. You can check what information your browser is leaking using the services mentioned in this article on Browser Fingerprints and Profiling

If you want to get serious about online privacy then you need to rethink how you use the Internet. And that all starts with your web browser. For many of you, the web browser you use is the web browser that was shipped with your computer or mobile. Some of you have downloaded a different web browser for one or another reason, but chances are that you are using either Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox or Opera. Right? Don’t feel out, 80-90% of all Internet users are using one or more of these web browsers. The exact number is not known and statistics vary considerably (as can be seen below):

Chrome IE Firefox Safari Opera Others 52.76 % 10.27 % 9.3 % 12.39 % 5.66% 2.89%
Chrome
47.3%
Safari
20.7%
I.E./Edge
12.3%
Firefox
11.4%
Opera
3.2%
Others
5.1%

So, which is the best one to use? To be honest, unless you’re involved in criminal activity or otherwise have attracted the interest of a nation state, it probably doesn’t matter which browser you use – as long as you follow a few simple rules. For the purpose of this article we’ll assume that you have a need for additional protections so we’ll focus on the top two “regular” browsers, Firefox and Chrome, as well as other specialized browsers that are purpose-built for a higher level of privacy, anonymity and online security. Regardless of which browser you use, you can significantly improve your defenses by sticking to the following:

  • Configure browser’s Privacy and Security settings
  • Keep browser patched and updated
  • Manage addons, plugins and extensions carefully
  • Make use of Private Browsing
  • Make use of SSL / HTTPS secure connections when available
  • Disable Javascript, Flash and ActiveX by default

Firefox boasts many features that are geared towards protecting your online privacy. Unfortunately, many of these features are not enabled by default or they require some action on your part. Here’s how to make use of them.


PRIVATE BROWSING

Private Browsing is a feature that allows you to browse the Internet without saving any information about the websites and webpages you visit. It also offers tracking protection, particularly the tracking of your activities across multiple sites. To enable Private Browsing you can either use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + P or the Firefox menu, File New Private Window This is what you should see:

Firefox Private Browsing

To configure Firefox to always browse in Private Browsing mode you can check the options indicated below which you’ll find by opening the menu Tools Options Privacy and select Use custom settings for history next to the History option “Firefox will:”

firefox history settings

BROWSING HISTORY

Having a record of the websites you’ve visited is incredibly useful. Not only does it enable you to find websites that you’ve browsed before, but it is used to provide autocomplete functionality that is very convenient. Naturally, you don’t want there to be a record of every single website you’ve viewed. Some things are very private. Whether you’re wanting to keep your wedding proposal secret from your soon-to-be-fiance or your sexually devient fetishes a secret from your soon-to-be-ex-fiance, you ought to have some choices, and indeed you do.

  • Don’t store history at all
    Set this up as follows. Open Tools Options Privacy and select Use custom settings for history next to the History option “Firefox will:” and then check Always Use Private Browsing Mode

  • Delete history when Firefox closes
    You can opt to have Firefox delete its history every time you close the browser. To do this, you’ll check the box Clear History when Firefox Closes which you’ll find in the same list of settings as above.
    Firefox Private Browsing
  • Delete history on command
    This can be done quickly by using the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + DELETE


COOKIES

Cookies are stored on your computer by websites you visit and they can contain information about your device and even you. They’re generally used to store your website preferences or login status, but are also widely used to track your movements from website to website. Secure you online privacy by tightening the bolts on Firefox’s default cookie settings. Go to Tools Options Privacy and select Use custom settings for history next to the History option “Firefox will:”. We recommend allowing website cookies as long as they are deleted after your browsing session is closed. We don’t advise leaving 3rd party cookies enabled. The settings below are a good balance between privacy and usability. You can turn off cookies altogether by unchecking the box containing the red check mark, but you’ll lose functionality and access on many websites.

firefox cookies

“DO NOT TRACK”

You’ll find two settings under Tools Options Privacy . These settings, when checked (as indicated below in red) will turn on Firefox’s “NO NOT TRACK” directive. Bear in mind, though, that this doesn’t prevent you from being tracked. It simply tells websites that you wish to opt-out of tracking by advertisers and other third-parties. Whether those websites honor the request is voluntary.

Firefox Privacy Settings

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