The invention of the internet made it easy to do amazing things online, like buying junk in a single click, but unfortunately that also came with consequences, like companies being able track your every move as you browse.
You might not know it, but every website you visit is using one or more “trackers” to follow your browsing habits around the Web and learn more about you — usually as a means to show you advertising or learn about your lifestyle.
Some of those trackers seem far more innocent on the surface than they really are. For example, Facebook and Twitter’s social sharing icons are great for quickly sharing a link, but they’re also quietly tracking every site you visit that uses them.
You can protect yourself against tracking and increase your security online just by using a few extensions in your browser. Here are the ones you should try out today.
This is my must-have extension; it automatically blocks third-party scripts used for tracking you, like Google Analytics, Intercom, social sharing buttons and more.
Disconnect displays a small number next to its icon to let you know how many scripts have been blocked and you’re able to get a visual overview of how many scripts tried to quietly load in the background.
It’s a good way to see what’s under the hood of who’s following you around the Web. And yes, you might be shocked by how many trackers some sites use actively.
Similar to Disconnect, Ghostery blocks trackers from following you around the Web.
You can quickly enable or disable particular trackers and an optional feature, called Ghostrank, learns as you browse to ensure the latest trackers are blocked.
Ghostery offers a little more control than Disconnect but is fundamentally very similar. Both extensions are free, so try both and use the one that suits your browsing style.
Many sites online provide HTTPS versions of their sites but don’t redirect their non-secure versions there automatically. This tiny extension uses clever tricks to get you onto the encrypted version of sites, so that third parties can’t snoop on your connection to websites.
HTTPS Everywhere is built by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and I’d highly recommend everyone install it.
A new entrant built by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that’s similar to Ghostery, Disconnect and other extensions but is better for blocking “non-consensual” trackers using an algorithm.
According to the EFF, Privacy Badger is different because it’s produced by an organization that’s “unambiguously working for its users rather than for advertisers; and which uses algorithmic methods to decide what is and isn’t tracking.”
Keep My Opt Outs
A tiny extension built by Google that allows you to permanently opt out of the company’s demographic and interests tracking.
All you need to do is install it, click opt-out permanently and you’re done.
Adblock / uBlock
I’m not an advocate for blocking ads because it’s basically stealing, but I think adblockers are OK if used as a way to defend yourself from shady advertising and malware. Instead of using them for blanket banning, use them as a way to ban those that abuse your trust.
I use an adblocker, but only have the malware and privacy lists enabled as a defensive measure; there’s simply no need to block everything.
In uBlock, you can head to the 3rd-party filters page and disable everything except “EasyPrivacy” and “Malware domains” to do this and keep supporting publishers.
This gives advertisers and publishers a fair chance while giving me the option to block ads on a site if they abuse my trust. It’s as easy as hitting the block button if something goes awry.
If you can’t quite break the Google habit, DuckDuckGo’s extension makes it easy to get its results that don’t track you, mixed right in with your Google searches.
The extension adds quick information sheets from DuckDuckGo’s search engine to results and makes it easy to look up information from the extension’s button.
Are you still creating passwords manually? It’s time to break that habit and start generating stronger ones. 1Password is a password manager for your desktop and smartphone that also features a browser extension to make password management and login auto-filling easy.
If you go all-in with 1Password and use it to store all your passwords and stop using the same password on every service, you’ll be better off if someone hijacks one of your accounts as they can’t get into everything. The extension makes it incredibly easy to start moving everything into your first safe.
Your passwords can be synchronized across devices using Dropbox, iCloud and other services so they’re accessible anywhere, or you can keep the file locally for security.
1Password costs $50 for a license, but it’s the best fifty dollars I’ve ever spent.
LastPass is another password manager service with a great browser extension, but the service lives exclusively in the cloud. It generates and stores passwords securely just like 1Password, but everything is synchronized for you out of the box.
There are benefits to it being hosted directly in the cloud; you can share passwords easily with family or friends without needing to copy and paste them and LastPass warns you when any passwords have been compromised, like when many were affected by heartbleed last year.
The service is free for Web-only access, but if you want to use it on mobile you’ll need to pay $12 per year.
A relatively new option, Dashlane is a password manager with a twist: it automatically keeps your passwords up to date for you and tries to improve your overall security.
Dashlane keeps tabs on your passwords, changes them for you and gives you a score for how secure you are overall. The only catch is you’ll need to pay $40 per year to sync across all your devices.
Tunnelbear was previously available as a desktop app but recently released a Chrome extension that makes it easy to encrypt your browsing by just clicking a button that creates a Virtual Private Network for encrypted browsing.
A Virtual Private Network is a technique that allows you to mask your true identity and computer’s address from websites. Your browsing is encrypted so that those that may be snooping are unable to see what you’re doing or eavesdrop on the data you’re sending.
Using a VPN when you’re connected to a public or untrusted network, like at a cafe, is important as you can’t know for sure who’s watching your traffic. Tunnelbear makes that dead simple.
The service is free for up to 500mb per month, after that you’ll need to pay $5 per month, but it makes it incredibly easy to encrypt without any setup.