Web browser privacy FAQ: Can you share some internet/web browser privacy tips? (i.e., What can I do to improve my web browser privacy and security?)
With the latest Adobe Flash security snafu (see my uninstall Mac Flash article), I'm again reminded of the topic of internet web browser privacy and security. I've written about browser privacy before, but this time I thought I'd take a different tact and share the things I know and do to help have a modicum of web browser privacy.
Web browser privacy tip #1 - Use different browsers
My first tip is to get comfortable using different web browsers, and then use different browsers for different things. I now regularly use Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on my Mac systems, and use them for different things. I set up each browser in a different Mac "Space", so I only have to look at one browser at a time, and I use Chrome for all my Google interactions (Gmail, Adsense), Firefox for Facebook and Twitter, and Safari for my Yahoo mail account (it works best with Yahoo mail).
By following this plan, I never have to see Facebook widgets knowing who I am when I visit other websites, because I visit those sites with Chrome, or with incognito windows (see my next tip). Also, advertisers trying to track my every move only have access to my cookies for a brief period of time, at best, as I remove them regularly (see my third tip).
Web browser privacy tip #2 - Use browser "incognito" windows
My second web browser privacy tip is to regularly use your web browser incognito windows. This is one reason I use Chrome so much. It's very easy to open a new Chrome incognito window -- just press [Shift][Command][n], and you have a new private browsing window.
Please read my Chrome Incognito window article for more details, but in short the Chrome Incgnito window makes these promises:
- New browser cookies are deleted after you close all incognito windows you've opened.
- Browsing in Incgnito mode only keeps Chrome from storing information about websites you've visited. The websites you visit may still have records of your visit.
Firefox has a similar feature hidden under their Tools menu labeled "Start Private Browsing", but unfortunately it's not nearly as simple as the Chrome incognito window. It has to save the state of your currently-open tabs before going into private browsing mode, and that's a clunky approach when you regularly use tabs.
Web browser privacy tip #3 - Clear your cookies regularly
My next web browser privacy tip is to regularly clean out your cookies, both the typical browser cookies as well as Flash Super cookies.
To look at how you can be tracked by advertisers, think of it like this:
- You come to a website like devdaily.com.
- Advertisers place ads on devdaily.com.
- Those ads are served by advertisers.
- Those advertisers can therefore place cookies on your browser. A cookie with a simple unique identified like "User 1001" will do.
- Next you go to another website, and that website uses the same advertiser. The advertiser can then access that cookie, and say, "Oh, User 1001, you were just at devdaily.com, and now you are at this other website. Therefore we think you like X, Y, and Z."
- Now take that same formula and expand it to all the websites you ever visit, and you get the idea of what web browser cookies can do.
So everything I've written about it in this article is an effort to minimize those cookies, and of course deleting your cookies on a regular basis is a very direct approach to solving this problem. (Using different browsers puts different cookies in different browsers; Incognito windows prevent cookies from being stored or accessed; and deleting browser cookies cleans up whatever slips through the cracks.)
Clearing your web browser cookies
Each browser has a slightly different approach to deleting cookies, but they are generally very similar, at least on a Mac. Just open the browser Preferences dialog, find the cookies, and either selectively delete them, or delete them all. Here's a quick look at how to delete Firefox cookies:
- Open the Firefox Preferences dialog.
- Click the Privacy icon.
- Click"clear your recent history", or "remove individual cookies".
Here's how to delete Chrome cookies:
- Open the Chrome Preferences dialog.
- Click the "Under the Hood" icon.
- Click "Content Settings..."
- Click "Show cookies and other site data" on the next dialog.
- Click "Remove All" on the next dialog, or work through the list of cookies and delete the ones you want individually.
Also, as another reminder, deleting regular cookies like this isn't enough. To help protect your web browser privacy, you also need to delete Flash cookies as well.
As you can see, this process really needs to be automated, and in a future blog post I'll write more about how to automate this process. (I've already written about one Firefox automation approach you can take with "Better web browser privacy with Better Privacy".)
Web browser privacy tip #4 - Your TCP/IP address
As a final warning, advertisers can go a step farther with all of this and track you by your TCP/IP address. Whether you know it or not, when you connect to the internet through a static connection like a cable modem or DSL line, you obtain a TCP/IP address from your provider at that time, and advertisers can also access this. So this becomes another way to track you.
The only way I know around this is to unplug your cable or DSL line, and hope you get a new TCP/IP address when you reconnect your line. This is pretty extreme, and you don't always get a new TCP/IP address, so I'm not necessarily recommending this technique as much as I am mentioning it. Fortunately in Alaska the power goes out from time to time, and I usually get a new TCP/IP address then, but I personally don't disconnect my line every night.
All of my current web browser privacy and security tips
Before leaving this article, here is a collection of links to all of my internet web browser privacy and security tips:
- Better web browser privacy with Better Privacy
- Internet/web browser privacy, security, and Flash cookies (LSO)
- Web browser privacy and the Google Chrome Incognito window
- iPhone Safari web browser privacy and security (history, cookies, cache, and databases)
Web browser privacy tips - Summary
If you're interested in web browser privacy, I hope these browser privacy tips have been helpful. If you know any other browser privacy tips, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below. (All I can do is promise that I won't track you, lol, and you're welcome to leave your email address in the form, or not.)