"I'm tired of these ads!"
"Can someone remove those pop ups?"
"My browser is slow"
Do you face such problems? Many of us do on a daily basis. These online experiences can be inconvenient and irritating, but they could also point to a more serious problem: that trackers or unwanted scripts are secretly monitoring our web activity and collecting our personal information.
Monitoring of online behaviour on browsers
There are several ways in which your online behaviour can be tracked and monitored on the web. Here are three:
1) Web Cookies
2) Browser Fingerprinting
A web cookie is a small piece of data that is stored on your web browser while you are browsing a website. It can store information about your browsing activity, usernames, passwords and so on. While they help you achieve a more seamless experience, it is important to clear your cookies and erase your browsing history regularly. How regularly? We recommend that you do so after every session on your computer or mobile phone.
During each session, your browser sends voluntary information about its configuration such as browser type, fonts, add-ons and so on. If the combination of this information is unique, it is possible to identify and track you without using web cookies. You can use the browser extensions that we recommend in the next section to avoid fingerprinting. Once you do that, you can test your browser and learn more about fingerprinting at cover your tracks.
How to protect yourself while on a browser
In order to protect yourself from web tackers, ads, popups or scripts, you can use web extensions. These extensions are also referred to as plug-ins or add-ons depending on the browser you use. They are snippets of code that you can use to customise your browser.
Here, we look at a few privacy-oriented extensions. They are available for all commonly-used web browsers such as Google, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and more. Most of these add-ons work well on your desktop or laptop computer. But if you are looking for them for mobile devices, you will need to use browsers such as Firefox Nightly, and Kiwi browser. If you're looking for a browser which blocks ads by default, you can use Brave.
HTTPS Everywhere - You might have noticed the letters 'http' or 'https' at the beginning of website address that you visit. The 's' at the end of 'http' refers to secure. This extension ensures that all the websites you visit are securely connected to you. When you visit websites that haven't enabled the 's' feature, the add-on informs you by displaying a warning message.
uBlock Origin - This extension helps you to block ads and trackers.
Privacy Badger - This extension helps you block unwanted tracking scripts.
Decentraleyes - This extension helps you block content delivery networks.
Cookie AutoDelete - This extension automatically clears your web cookies.
Light Beam - This is a special extension, which helps to visualise relationships between third parties and the sites you visit.
ClearURLs - This will automatically clear URLs upon exit, and removes tracking elements from URLs.
User Agent Switcher - This will help you to override the user agent string.
WebRTC leak prevent - This will help you against IP leaks.
Firefox Multi Account Containers - This will help you to create containers for specific websites.
You can visit Browserleaks and find out what personal information is being collected.
- Try not to use your friend's laptop or PC for your browsing activities, especially if it requires you to log into your email, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Even if you use it, make sure you clear the browsing history, including your passwords.
- Use add-ons such as ClearURLs and CookieAutoDelete if you want to clear everything automatically after you close your browser.
- Use Multiple Containers and UserAgentSwitcher while browsing your social media.
This article is part of a series on digital literacy titled Digital Buddhi, aimed at helping you be safe online.
Amoghavarsha H is a digital investigator and a journalist.