Beef up Firefox Privacy Features

Dmitri Popov

Productivity Sauce

May 05, 2010 GMT
Dmitri Popov

Whether you want it or not, your Web activities are tracked and analyzed in many different ways. But you don't have to put up with this, especially if you are using Firefox as your primary browser. There are a few handy Firefox extensions that can beef up your favorite browser's privacy features. Here are my three personal favorites.

Besides regular cookies planted in your browser by many Web sites, some services add so-called Flash cookies or Local Shared Objects (LSO). Similar to conventional cookies, LSOs collect and share information about your Web usage. But unlike good old cookies, LSOs are particularly difficult to purge from your browser. The aptly named BetterPrivacy extension provides a simple fix to that problem. This extension lets you nuke all nasty LSOs installed in your browser one by one, or you can configure it to delete them all in one fell swoop when you close the browser.

Cookies are the most common way to track your Web activities, but they are not the only ones. Tags, Web bugs, pixels, and beacons are all used to gather information about your Web habits. The Ghostery extension is designed to block these unwelcome guests. Once installed, it sits quietly in Firefox's status bar. When Ghostery detects suspicious elements, its icon turns blue, and you can view a list of discovered trackers by right-clicking on the icon. You can then use Ghostery to view more info about the particular tracking service and block it, if necessary.

Most Web sites and services that attempt to gather information about you are small fish compared to the mighty Google. Every time you perform a search or use a Google-based service, you hand the search giant a wealth of information about you. While it's virtually impossible to prevent that from happening, you can make Google's job of collecting data much harder using the GoogleSharing extension and proxy service. According to the project's Web site, the proxy server is designed to confuse Google by "generating a pool of GoogleSharing 'identities,' each of which contains a cookie issued by Google and an arbitrary User-Agent for one of several popular browsers." The Firefox extension redirects all requests for Google services from your browser to the proxy. The proxy then strips the requests of all identifying information and replace it with information from a GoogleSharing identity. By default, the extension uses the proxy server maintained by the GoogleSharing project, but you can also set up your own proxy by installing and running the googleshare server.

Comments

  • Dump the flash trash as son as it arrives

    I simply perform the following commands on a newly installed system and ths has worked for years:

    ln -s /dev/null ~/.macromedia
    ln -s /dev/null ~/.adobe
  • Cleaning up

    I use Bleachbit to remove all this unwanted stuff:

    http://bleachbit.sourceforge.net/
  • firefox & flash history, cookies, etc.

    Put this in .bashrc or .bash_aliases, and run them regularly. Something I picked up on usenet a while back.

    function clean-firefox ()
    # from a slashdot post, cleans up its databases, can take ~15 secs!
    {
    for i in ~/.mozilla/firefox/*.default/*.sqlite; do
    sqlite3 $i "vacuum;" ;
    done
    }

    alias cleanflash='rm -rf ~/.macromedia/Flash_Player/macromedia.com/support/flashplayer/sys/* ~/.macromedia/Flash_Player/#SharedObjects/*/*'
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