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The web can be fraught with danger, with countless entities desperate to steal your information, coerce you into clicking on their link, or manipulating you into sharing your data with them. Whether its ad agencies wanting to know about your likes and dislikes, social networks tracking your online movements, or criminals attempting to steal your data, the truth is there is always someone or something monitoring your Internet activity and content. Ultimately, the less information we let these groups have the safer we’ll be.
In light of that, we take a look at four browser tools which will help you control your web content more effectively – reviewing what they do along with their relative merits and drawbacks.
Developed by a member of the Mozilla Security Group, NoScript is an open-source extension that works on all Mozilla-based browsers; it’s one of many tools that can make Firefox more secure.
- Unknown threats: The extension can help prevent the exploitation of security vulnerabilities that have not yet been discovered because it doesn’t rely on a virus/vulnerability database.
- Prevents ‘Clickjacking’: Clickjacking is the process where buttons on a page are either hidden or disguised as something else. The extension’s ClearClick feature prevents users accidentally clicking on them.
- Prevent cross-site attacks: NoScript’s anti-XSS functionality will prevent most instances of cross-site scripting attacks.
- Time consuming: When you first start using NoScript, you’ll need to take an active role in setting up and managing it or else you’ll find lots of content from your favourite sites will be inaccessible.
- Possible reduced performance: Whilst not a common criticism, there are reports on various forums that users with very long blacklists have seen the app become sluggish. This issue will not affect most users.
Ghostery is available on Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, as well as the Android and iOS mobile platforms.
The app claims that it wants to help you become a web detective, and it follows through with its ambition by alerting you to a broad range of threats, including cookies, web bugs (objects embedded in a webpage that allow your browsing habits to be collected), and tracking pixels/beacons – along with giving you access to a comprehensive list of 1,900 ad networks and behavioural data providers.
It works by monitoring all web servers that are being called from a particular web page and matching those with a library of data collection tools. If a match is found, the app will alert the user – if the user has told Ghostify to block communications with the server the call will not be connected.
- Better than blocking cookies: The approach taken by Ghostify is better than simply opting-out or blocking cookies. Strategies such as those still allow the browser to communicate with the web server by altering the communication or the response.
- Several blocking options: The way the app is designed allows its users to block on a tracker-by-tracker basis, a site-by-site basis, or a blend of the two. Blocking can also be paused completely when you deem it appropriate.
- Ghostrank: Ghostrank is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s how the company makes money and ensures it remains free to use. On the other, it is alleged that the data collected is sold to advertisers. The developers defend it by claiming they add their own analysis and sell it to companies in order to help them audit and manage relationships with marketing tools. You can opt-out of Ghostrank if you don’t wish to participate.
- Loading times: The app does a scan for numerous different page elements each time you load a site – this could lead to an increase in page loading times, especially if your connection isn’t very fast.
Disconnect is an app that works on Windows 7/8, Apple OS X 10.7+, Android 4.0+, and iOS 7.0+.
It is aimed at people who want to have a greater degree of online control over what/how personal information is shared. It offers six main features; safer and faster browsing, visualised tracking, anonymous search, customisable VPN location, coordinated privacy icons, and encrypted Internet.
The software works by routing all a user’s traffic through an encrypted tunnel, thus preventing any companies on their filter list from communicating with you, and making all your online habits completely anonymous.
- Data not sold: Unlike Ghostery, Disconnect have explicitly stated they do not collect, sell, or otherwise take advantage of your personal data. They make their money by charging the user, meaning the full-featured service incurs a cost. Desktop users can pay what they feel to be appropriate, mobile users have a free or premium option. You can try before you buy.
- Privacy icons: The icons are one of the best features of Disconnect from user-experience standpoint. Not only are they easy to understand, but they are consistent across all sites, allowing you to easily and effectively compare the merits of different sites. They appear in both search results and the browser icon, and can be customised.
- Always running: On Windows and Mac, the software is directly installed onto the hard-drive rather than being an extension/plugin. This means that you need to leave the app open to make sure you are protected – something that’s easy to overlook until you’re in a regular habit.
- Multiple VPNs: While the fact Disconnect operates as a VPN is advantageous in many ways, obviously you cannot use two VPNs at the same time. Therefore, if you use a VPN for circumventing geo-blocking or for accessing a work network, you will not be able to use the Disconnect app at the same time.
Policeman tries to give its users a more holistic approach to privacy and security, allowing you to create rules based on both the domain visited and the type of resource being used. It only works on Mozilla-based browsers. If you’re a Chrome user check out our list of the top 8 Chrome security plugins for more options.
- Advanced: Users who are skilled in the field of privacy and security will have no problem deciphering the app. It is arguably the most customisable of all the options in this article, with rules based on content type allowing you to micro-manage your online content.
- Support: This is a much smaller project than the three aforementioned suggestions. It means the app doesn’t have the same amount of supporting literature and the developer may not be able to upgrade the project as quickly.
- Complexity: The app is the most user-intensive of all the options. The developer is very explicit that many sites will not work at all until the necessary content has been permitted.
Which privacy apps, extensions, and plugins are your favourites? Have you got any experience with the ones we selected? Let us know your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.