The Case for Privacy

The Case for Privacy

In the past, privacy was something we took for granted. We had one phone line at home and a ham radio network, perhaps. All of our communication was under our control and easy to disable. Today, communication has become far too complicated. We are surrounded by technology: our smartphones talk to our computers, cars, and even refrigerators. In turn, most of them “phone home” with one data type or another. Our personal lives are stored online, and the IT industry is hell-bent on digging even deeper. Our daily routines depend on services that track our every move – from Google Search, to smart phones, and more.

So where did the privacy go and how do we reclaim it? The nuclear solution is rather easy – go live in the woods and don’t talk to people. Well, most of us simply cannot afford the nuclear solution.

There is a simple case to make for privacy: behavioural changes occur when people know they are being watched. To avoid being seen in a negative light, we conform to a common ideal. The more we make these types of concessions, the more we lose who we are. This is not an ideal compromise and poses a critical dilemma. If living in the woods is not an option, how do we maintain a “reasonable” level of privacy?

In the next few posts, we will explore privacy maintenance in technical terms.

Chapter One: The Browser

The browser is, by far, the most-used computer tool. Internet Explorer, the default web browser installed on Windows-based systems, is not ideal.  Install a third-party alternative right away. Chrome and Firefox are better options. Both offer robust solutions that support extensions; however, there is one VITAL difference between the two browsers. You can go over the EULA in details here:

Google Chrome

https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/privacy/eula_text.html

Firefox

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/about/legal/eula

In a Nutshell:

Mozilla Firefox is driven by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, Google Chrome is a product of the biggest marketing company on the planet. While Google may do its best to support the privacy of its users, advertising gets in the way. Privacy and advertisers simply don’t mix, making Firefox the better alternative for privacy maintenance.

Using five easy steps, we will learn how to configure Firefox for “reasonable” privacy. As creating “reasonable” privacy is key, we will avoid the obvious “in private” mode.

Let’s begin the configuration process. First, download Firefox:

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/

Installation is relatively straightforward.

Once the browser is installed, we can establish some basic cookie control. Third-party cookies are generally used to track users across websites, but are not critical to functionality. Our second step will be to disable third-party cookies:

https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/disable-third-party-cookies

The name of the game is EXTENSIONS.

Extensions are small software packages that enhance browser functionality. While you can literally spend hours trying different configurations and extensions but the goal here is to establish one that improves the browsing experience and increases privacy.

Remember how the Internet used to be?  Remember when there were no advertisements taking up half of your page, no annoyingly loud commercials – just the page itself? Adblock Plus takes you back to those early Internet days. It blocks advertisements, including the annoying YouTube pre-roll.

Our third step involves installing the infamous Adblock Plus extension:

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/adblock-plus/

Note:   I said infamous because ad block is a Webmasters worse nightmare.  What happens is you get all of the content while the site fails to show any of its adverts. This is a murky moral ground. I usually tend to disable Adblock plus for sites I like. 

Disclaimer: Though unlikely, using these add-ons might negatively affect some websites you browse. All of the utilities have a “white list option,” allowing them to operate on websites based on your direction.

Following installation, a welcome screen will prompt you to indicate the ads, social buttons and malware domains you wish to block. Begin the fourth step by choosing all possible options:

https://adblockplus.org/en/getting_started

The default configuration allows some ads to slip by the filters. However, you can opt for total removal of advertisements and tracking beacons by following the fifth step:

https://adblockplus.org/en/acceptable-ads

Scroll to the section “But I hate all ads!”  Follow the instructions to purge most advertisements and block most known page beacons and trackers.

Last words: Ad block plus is available for almost every browser on the planet.

https://adblockplus.org/

Chrome, Firefox, Safari etc. so the said above is not much different in terms of execution for “Your browser”.  Be bold try it out.

You have just learned how to increase your ‘reasonable privacy’ in five easy steps. Happy surfing!