Privacy is the foremost concern for just about any computer user in today’s world of snoopy governments, massive password leaks, and Google, Facebook and company just being their data-gathering corporate selves.
Of the “Big Three” browsers, Firefox has always been the one to respect user privacy, what with the other two being owned by Microsoft and Google who have a pile of business reasons to make your interests their interests. But to boost Firefox’s privacy even more, the extension Privacy Settings is well worth a try, as it accessibly offers an extensive list of features that help you keep your browsing to yourself.
Here we will describe how to use it.
First up, go to the Firefox addons page by clicking the menu button at the top-right of the browser and selecting “Add-ons.” Next, click the green jigsaw icon to go to extensions, type “privacy settings” in the search bar, and install it.
A shield icon should appear at the top-right of your browser. Click it and brace yourself for an extensive list of all the privacy functions in the extension that can be enabled and disabled with a single click.
But don’t be intimidated. There are ways to do things very simply here, but you can dig deeper if you’d like.
The Simple Method
If you don’t want to bother with learning what each of the entries in the list means, just cast your eyes to the bottom of the Privacy Settings window and use one of the options in the big grey boxes. The four options are self-explanatory, and while you can find out their functions by hovering your mouse over each one, here are a few extra details that aren’t quite made clear in the descriptions:
- Google Safe Browsing: A few of the options mention that they do/don’t use Google Safe Browsing. Safe Browsing flags sites that are suspected of containing malicious software and sends you a warning when you’re about to visit such a site. Safe Browsing does, however, have a bad privacy reputation, as it stores cookies on your computer that in the past (and let’s face it, probably now) have been used by the NSA to track users.
- On balance, I’d go for the “Privacy & Security” or “Privacy (compatible) & Security” options. If you don’t go for the compatible option, you risk certain secure websites not working, but your privacy will technically be a little more secure.
Doing Things Manually
If you insist on deviating from the standard options, or at least seeing exactly what you’re selecting, then Privacy Settings makes it a little easier by showing you what each option does when you hover your mouse over it.
So while there’s no need for me to go through each option and what they do individually, here are a few key terms from those descriptions that are worth knowing:
- Telemetry: Telemetry is a means of monitoring the performance and events occurring on your browser. The data that gets sent using this doesn’t contain your web browsing information or personal data, just the performance of the browser on your PC.
- Websocket: In layman’s terms, this is a protocol by which a server (or website) and your browser can send data to each other simultaneously, allowing webpages to load quicker.
- WebRTC: WebRTC stands for web “real-time communications” such as video calls. But having this active in a browser comes with risks, as proven by a leak in 2015 where WebRTC exposed users’ IP details even when using a VPN.
- RC4: RC4 is an old encryption method that tends not to be used these days due to numerous security vulnerabilities.
- TLS: “Transport Layer Security” is a widely-used protocol that encrypts and anonymises data sent between your PC and sites you visit.
Privacy Settings is hands down one of the best extensions you can use to take serious control over your web browsing. For those who want to secure themselves without getting lost in a labyrinth of complex security settings (but still want more protection than something like Chrome’s security settings offer), this is a fantastic option.