Business Today

Boosting Online Privacy

A host of browser extensions can help you keep away sites tracking you.
twitter-logo Nidhi Singal   New Delhi     Print Edition: July 15, 2018
Boosting Online Privacy

Every time you visit a website, you leave behind a digital footprint. These traces of information might include search history, social media account information, and much more. Some of this is stored in the form of cookies, text files that contain two pieces of information - the name of the site and a unique user ID. Some of these cookies help you remain signed into your e-mail accounts, some remember your site preferences and some even present you with locally relevant content, improving the browsing experience. These are first-party cookies created by the websites you visit.

However, there is a flip side too. A big chunk of cookies is created to track your profile or surfing habits. Often, these are third-party cookies, added on to the various websites you visit. While it is difficult to identify these third-party cookies, you can get rid of all cookies while deleting browser history, or change cookie settings in your browser to eliminate them altogether. But there is a catch. If all cookies are turned off, you may face trouble signing into your Gmail account or visiting many websites. Let us look at ways to safeguard oneself from unwanted third-party cookies.

Built-in Browser Settings

All leading web browsers have these settings built into them. You can block all cookies or just restrict third-party cookies. Under the 'Privacy and Security' tab on Chrome's 'Settings' is the Cookie tab, which allows you to block third-party cookies and even grant permission to specific sites to save and read cookie data.

Firefox users will have to navigate a little more. The can click on the 'Privacy & Security' panel under 'Preferences', go to the 'History' section and use 'Custom Settings for History' to choose 'accept third-party cookies' or reject third-party cookies.

Similarly, in Safari, 'cookies and website data' option can be accessed through the 'Privacy' option in 'Preferences'. With Opera, one has to visit the browser settings, followed by 'Preferences', 'Advanced' and 'Cookies', whereas on Microsoft Edge, one can go to 'Privacy and Services' under 'View Advanced Settings'.

To be on the safer side, you can also turn on auto-delete cookies every time you close the browser. Within the cookies setting on Google Chrome, for instance, you can select the option to 'keep local data only until you quit your browser'. With Firefox, select 'keep cookies until I close Firefox.'

Extensions and Apps

There are some web-browser extensions to protect privacy. Ghostery, available for almost all popular browsers, improves your browsing experience by giving you control over ads and tracking technologies to speed up page loads, eliminate clutter and protect data. It allows you to go with default settings or customise settings. The latter lets you block ad-trackers or choose the list of analytics options you want to allow. Ghostery also allows you to enable enhanced anti-tracking, smart blocking and even create a Ghostery account for syncing settings across browsers and devices. Once set up, the Ghostery icon appears next to the address bar that shows a report card of the number of trackers blocked, page load time and even the details of the blocked trackers for you to identify if they are harmless or intrusive.

Another popular extension is Adblock Plus. It blocks banners, pop-ups, tracking, malware and more. Clicking on the Adblock Plus icon next to the search bar gives you a report which shows the number of ads blocked on the particular page and in total. With just one click, you can turn on/off the blocker for a particular site. Adblock Plus can be customised from the Settings - this allows you to block social media icons tracking, block additional tracking, and allow/block acceptable ads that are non-intrusive. It also gives quick access to Whitelisted websites for which you have turned off ad blocking and more. The advanced option is for customising Adblock Plus, add or remove filter lists, and create and maintain own filter lists. It can also be used for disabling third-party tracking cookies and scripts.

Disconnect finds companies that track people and then blocks their tracking requests. Available for Chrome and Firefox, this is a user-supported software that allows users to pay as much as they want annually.

Another popular extension is uBlock Origin. With advanced settings, this one isn't for beginners. It shows the number of requests blocked and gives a quick access to the list. Even the settings have a wide list of options to choose from, which includes auto-update filters, parse and enforce cosmetic filters, malware domains, annoyances, and more.


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