The more time goes on, the more reasons we seem to have to browse the web. Until now, most folks used the web to check their social media accounts and email. These days there are more and more folks working from home and spending their money online instead of at brick and mortar stores. Whether or not you realize it, you probably spend more time in a web browser now than ever before.
This increased usage of browsers warrants taking a fresh approach to how we use them. So many sites use cross-site cookies, supercookies, pixel trackers, tracking scripts, etc these days. If you work, browse the web, check your social media accounts, do your online shopping, pay your bills, and check your bank account and investments on the same computer, you might want to consider what kind of harm could come from some of those sites tracking your activity across the other sites.
Use Multiple Browsers for Different Kinds of Activities
The approach I’m a fan of is to have multiple browsers installed and use them for different purposes. I compare this approach to a phrase used in programming (and probably other things as well); “separation of concerns”.
I’ll use my work laptop as an example here. The company for which I work (my day job) issued me a laptop and, unfortunately, uses the Google G-Suite. Because of that, I just use Chrome for all things work-related. I detest Google and Chrome, but in this case, it makes sense. Throughout the day, I might have 30+ tabs open in Chrome, and every one of them is directly related to my job. If I need JIRA, Gitlab, the QA environment, my company Gmail, some documentation, and maybe even a company portal site opened, it happens in Chrome.
On another monitor, I keep Brave Browser open. Here, I occasionally check my crypto accounts, watch a video or 2 on Odysee if I need a “brain break”, do a little online shopping, and check my accounts related to this site. If I want to pay a bill or check a personal social media account, I open Vivaldi for that.
I try not to do too many important personal activities on my work computer so I am a bit relaxed on my approach while working. On my personal computers, my approach is much more strict. I stay connected to my VPN unless I am gaming or downloading updates since a VPN slows down your traffic a little. Brave gets used for shopping, all of my Tinfoil My Life activity, development, and some other more trivial things. I use only use Vivaldi for personal social media accounts (Minds, Gab, and Ruqqus). I use Iridium Browser for my “questionable” web activities, and my financial accounts get checked in a private Brave browser window in case someone with ill intentions gets their hands on my computer. Using a private window makes sure that your activity gets deleted when the window is closed. By using a private window for checking financial accounts, I am making sure that, if someone gains access to my machine, they can’t even find out where I do my banking, store my crypto, etc. It also means that I have to type out URLs, usernames, and passwords every single time I check an account, but that is a small price to pay for that added level of privacy.
This is my favorite approach to separating your web activity, but it isn’t the only approach out there.
Run a Facebook Container
Facebook is notorious for tracking all of your activity so they can pump that data into their algorithms to show you very targeted ads. For some, merely using Facebook in a different browser might be enough to give them peace of mind. It is also worth mentioning that Firefox has a Facebook Container plugin that allows you to browse Facebook in its own little box which prevents it from tracking your other online activity. I rarely recommend Firefox, though. Firefox itself is a fine browser with great privacy features. My issue is the recent pro-censorship stance taken by Mozilla, the company that developed Firefox. Speech should never be censored. Silencing people and ideas will only lead to tyranny, a boring monoculture, and the eventual surrender of the rest of your human rights. Aside from my feelings, if you don’t care that Mozilla is pro-censorship, Firefox with the Facebook Container plugin is a viable option if you at least want to silo off Facebook. Personally, I recommend you delete your Facebook account and check out some of the newer, more privacy and free-speech focused social networking alternatives. That’s your decision to make, though.
Use Browser Extensions or Plugins
Most modern browsers have a plugin system. If you’re using some like Brave, Vivaldi, or any other Chromium-based browser then you can download extensions from the Chrome Web Store. Firefox has its own add-ons page as well, and many of the developers of these extensions publish to both places.
There are several privacy-centric add-ons/plugins/extensions that can help stop tracking and data collection to some extent. A few of the most popular are:
- Adblock Plus — Chome Web Store link / Firefox Add-on link
- uBlock Origin — Chrome Web Store link / Firefox Add-on link
- Ghostery — Chrome Web Store link / Firefox Add-on link
- Privacy Badger — Chrome Web Store link / Firefox Add-on link
There are many more out there you can explore, too. I tend to just use a more secure browser and skip the plugins. It might be worth it to bog one browser down with one or more of these plugins and use that for financial transactions, shopping, etc. As a developer, I already have plugins for Redux, React, Vue, Angular, and more running so I try not to add too many other plugins and trust that I’ve made a good decision on choosing a secure browser. Still, that’s not to take away from the usefulness of these plugins. As always, you decide on how you want to protect yourself online.
Other Options to Secure Your Browser
There are other ways to make sure your online activity can’t be easily tracked while using a browser.
- Private/Incognito windows protect you locally from someone accessing your machine and spying on your activity, but not much more. It is a common misconception that they protect your privacy from the sites you visit or your ISP. They can, however, be used to silo off your activity from the cookies and trackers present in your normal browser windows.
- As always, a VPN can be a useful tool in protecting your location data from websites. It can also mask your traffic from your ISP, but not all VPNs are created equally. I have a list of some good ones here.
- Many private DNS services offer some blocking of trackers and malware. Changing your DNS is an easy win for privacy. Here is a post I made about changing your DNS setting.
- Changing your browser settings can stop some of the major social networks from tracking as much of your browsing activity as well.
- Adding a Pihole to your network definitely increases your privacy and security. You can read about that here
The Best Solutions are the Ones You Will Stick With
I’ve presented you with some options to improve your privacy and security while using a browser. I highly recommend trying the multiple browser approach, but if it isn’t something you’ll stick with, then I’ve hopefully presented you with another option that will suit you better. You can combine some of these approaches to make your browsing experience as private as possible if you wish! Regardless, my goal is to merely present you with some information. In the end, you should choose which measure you employ.