Firefox and web privacy

The Four Horsemen of the Internet

Web Browsers
The Four Horsemen of the Internet

We all know that we are being tracked on the internet when we are browsing, but we are unable to do much about it.

Many advertisers will use tracking cookies to create "fingerprints" of users in order to create advertising profiles. There may be others using the same methods to track users for more malevolent reasons.

One ironic side of preventing such "fingerprints" is that deleting them also leaves a trail - just like a black hole is observed by its effects on other things, a user may potentially also be tracked by the lack of certain types of fingerprints and different users are able to eliminate different finger prints, each user is once against trackable by their unique combination of fingerprint and lack of fingerprint.

Note - this does not talk about other forms of tracking, for instance government mandates tracking that is carried out on all of us in the UK by the internet service providers who must track and store our every internet connection. Nor is it about devices that are compromised in some way, or other active methods of surveillance.

For a little better web experience, on the Firefox browser I use the following two extensions.

Ublock Origin

This is the first and primary piece of software that I use to block unwanted tracking. It is an addon for Firefox and AFAIK it is available for Chrome aswell.

My primary use of this addon has been less about privacy and more about blocking adverts that manage to slow the browser toa  crawl -some adverts will not allow interaction until loaded, but the advertisers will not invest in their infrastructure, slowing the browser down to a crawl while downloading the adware.

It works based on lists of known addresses which serve either adverts, malware or known tracking cookies.

Everyone should have this addon installed.

Firefox Multi Account Containers

This is another addon for Firefox that Mozilla is using to develop certain software features. It allows you to restrict logins and other data to a "container" and as examples it provides containers for personal, work, banking and shopping. You can also set websites to open by default in a specific container.

It is hoped that this feature will eventually make it into a default part of Firefox - however Mozilla have released is a partial deployment for facebook following the disclosure about its habit of selling data (I this this is another extension).

Having thought about this more today, I think there is a better way to use this addon.

I have now created two new containers: one for my email and one for twitter. The idea is that the two different types of tracking to collide less often.

I have only started to use this addon recently and I have noticed that the browser did freeze for a few seconds when I clicked a link to twitter when not in its container. Hopefully such issues will be resolved promptly.

I think these are two good steps people can take to make the web more useable and also gain a little privacy from passive tracking methods.

I would be interesting in reading how others try to increase privacy or whether they think the above two steps are effective or now.


OK I have now enabled two more firefox addons:

1. Facebook Container. This integrated with the previously mentioned Multi Account Containers extension and as a bonus does not leave the configuration to me, so I wont mess it up.

2. First Party isolation. This is a new feature in Firefox and can be enabled in preferences, however there is an extension out there that will allow you to toggle it on and off if necessary.

This latter feature works by only allowing facebook cookies on facebook pages etc - but I suspect you may need to temporarily disable if you use login solutions allowing major social networks to sign you into websites. (that is my guess so I may be wrong).

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'" - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister. 13 May 2015.