You open your browser to look at the web. Do you know who is looking back at you?
Over a recent week of web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the web.
This was made possible by the web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software.
Lately I’ve been investigating the secret life of my data, running experiments to see what technology really is up to under the cover of privacy policies that nobody reads. It turns out, having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most-popular web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop.
It made me decide to ditch Chrome for a new version of nonprofit Mozilla’s Firefox, which has [a few] default privacy protections. Switching involved less inconvenience than you might imagine.
My tests of Chrome versus Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer, but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.
Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you’d think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.
And that’s not the half of it.
Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.
Firefox isn’t perfect – it still defaults searches to Google and permits some other tracking. But it doesn’t share browsing data with Mozilla, which isn’t in the data-collection business.
Using browsers like Tor, GNU IceCat, Falkon and/or Pale Moon is highly recommended: https://spyware.neocities.org/articles/browsers.html
If you decide to use something like Mozilla Firefox and/or the rip-off Waterfox, make sure you install some privacy add-ons like Noscript Security Suite, HTTPS Everywhere and a Browser Spoofer like Chameleon.
Get rid of third party telemetry URLs and disable webGL and webRTC using about:config settings, see here: https://8ch.net/prepare/res/22.html
Use free software like Bleachbit to wipe out online sqlite cookies/web cache/browser history: https://www.bleachbit.org/
If you want better online security, use a private VPN connection: https://web.archive.org/web/20180815204246/https://torrentfreak.com/vpn-services-keep-anonymous-2018/
Also, best keep as much personal information OFF your personal computer, encase ever hacked into.