5 essential privacy tools for your web browser and phone
Though privacy tools were in the past a niche extravagance, they have since become essential.
Social media scandals, congressional hearings, and dire political intrigues have brought to harsh light the realities of how advertisers track our activities on the internet. Cambridge Analytica, Russian interference in U.S. elections, and the advent of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation have revealed the extent to which our online activities are monitored and exploited without our knowledge.
Although some legislative changes aim to return control of user data to users (see: GDPR), for the most part, taking control of who sees your activities online and how is still in your hands.
Thankfully, developers have come up with a plethora of privacy tools to help ensure your digital privacy.
Developed by the good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Badger is an all-purpose tool for blocking trackers on your browser. Available as an extension for Chrome, Firefox, or Opera, it thwarts most advertising trackers and serves warnings about scripts it finds objectionable.
Although Privacy Badger does not explicitly block ads, it winds up blocking some advertising content that it suspects of housing trackers. Privacy Badger focuses on blocking third-party trackers (i.e., trackers from anonymous third-party companies) while allowing first-party analytics software to continue collecting data on your activities. However, if you want to adopt more aggressive blocking tactics, Privacy Badger allows you to set those preferences as well.
A privacy tool along the lines of Privacy Badger, the Ghostery browser extension provides even more granular control over which trackers you block. This extension, available for Chrome and Firefox, lets you decide specifically which trackers and pieces of advertising you want blocked.
Although it provides a “block all” option, the real power of Ghostery lies in the control it gives you in deciding exactly which trackers you want to thwart.
Ghostery also focuses on web browser performance, allowing you to block only trackers and ads that slow down your browsing. If you don’t know enough about digital advertising to cherry-pick which trackers and ads you want blocked, Ghostery also has a “smart blocking” feature that will automatically scan the trackers on a page and block those it finds most objectionable.
Touting itself as a “fair adblocker,” Stands allows you to control which trackers and ads appear in your browser. The browser extension, available for Chrome exclusively, divides ads into “fair” and “unfair” categories, then allows through the “fair” varieties to render as you browse the web.
Stands’ definition of “unfair” includes malware, third-party trackers, and pop-ups, and you can calibrate the extension to expand or contract this list as you see fit.
Available for iOS mobile devices, Firefox Focus provides a great solution for private browsing while on your mobile phone. The app allows you to browse the web without being tracked, and deletes your browsing history each time you conclude a session.
You can also use Firefox Focus as an extension for Safari, providing an all-in-one solution for keeping your iPhone and iPad browsing private.
The DuckDuckGo search engine provides one of the easiest, simplest solutions available for thwarting trackers on your laptop or mobile phone. On your laptop, visit duckduckgo.com to check out the company’s powerful, quick, and tracker-free web browser. If you like it, you can set it as your default for Chrome or Firefox.
If you want to beat trackers and invasive advertising on your mobile phone, you can download the DuckDuckGo App, which offers much of the same functionality in an equally appealing package. Unlike Google and Yahoo, DuckDuckGo won’t record your browsing history for use in targeting ads.