by Dave Moore, 10-7-18
In Part One of this series, we looked at using the settings in Mozilla’s Firefox browser to defeat Internet tracking cookies, those little surveillance files injected into our devices by websites, and used against us to report our every move to faceless data brokers, invasive government agencies, and Internet criminals.
In this episode, we look at “privacy” browsers, and the devices with which they can be used. Some are designed to run only on “regular” computers, like a Windows PC or Apple Mac; others are designed exclusively for Android and Apple phones and tablets. When looking for a privacy browser, you need to know what device and operating system you use, such as Microsoft Windows (laptop/desktop), Linux, Apple OS X or MacOS (iMacs and MacBooks), Apple iOS (iPhones and iPads), or Android phones and tablets (Samsung, Motorola, LG, etc.).
Privacy browsers give the promise of out-of-the-box protections against invasive tracking cookies, without hassling over fiddly settings and configurations. Some privacy browsers can provide additional protections by hiding or obscuring your geographical location. Numerous browser alternatives can be found on the Internet; some may be great, some may be awful, so I will only list those I have personally tested and consider to be legitimate. The privacy browsers I have tested, their websites and the systems they work with are:
(1) Tor (torproject.org): Windows, Linux, MacOS/OSX, Android (Orbot); (2) Brave (brave.com): Windows, Linux, MacOS/OSX, Android, iOS; (3) Epic (epicbrowser.com): Windows, MacOS/OSX; (4) Firefox Focus (mozilla.org/firefox/mobile): Android, iOS; (5) DuckDuckGo (duckduckgo.com/app): Android, iOS.
When considering online privacy, tracking cookies are only one area of concern out of many. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing? Online privacy protections must be viewed in light of those three questions, as not all products address all three concerns. Who and what you are trying to protect against can guide what protections you employ. Maybe your biggest concern is being targeted and exploited by the Internet’s mega-corporations. Or, perhaps you are a political dissident who lives in a country with a government that levies harsh punishments against people who look at the wrong websites, or say the wrong things.
The Epic, Brave and DuckDuckGo websites are quite educational as to some of the many privacy threats found on the Internet in addition to tracking cookies, such as Flash and Evercookies, browser fingerprinting, IP address “leakage,” HTML 5 storage, infected “malvertising” ads, crypto-mining and canvas fingerprinting scripts, and ultrasonic cross-device tracking signals, to name just a few. I suggest you visit those websites and start reading.
Different privacy browsers offer different types of protections. Most of them do a pretty good job taking care of the “what am I doing” question, and most of the “who am I” question. Tor and Epic also have the ability to address the “where am I” question by changing the IP (Internet Protocol) address your devices show to the outside world, albeit in different ways. These are great protections, but a full-on VPN (Virtual Private Network) service is the most thorough way to deal with IP address protection. Please visit whatismyipaddress.com for some very good information on the subject.
One problem you may encounter is websites that won’t work at all unless you allow some level of cookie activity, or if you mask your IP address. Netflix can be very cranky in this regard. Some websites won’t allow online shopping or bill paying unless third-party cookies are enabled and IP addresses are out in the open. A compromise is to enable certain functions for activities that demand them, and disable them for everything else. You can even build different browser “profiles,” each dedicated to different purposes (online shopping, bill paying, banking, gaming, general surfing, privacy, etc.) and switch between them to accomplish different goals. A very effective solution is to setup two different networks, one for privacy, and one for websites and services that don’t allow privacy.
I encourage you to install and try the privacy browsers I’ve listed on all your devices. I’m glad they are available; I trust they will only improve over time, and there’s something that can help in your quest for the ultimate Internet safety experience.
Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. As founder of the Internet Safety Group, he also teaches Internet safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.internetsafetygroup.com