Protect Your Online Privacy with Firefox Browser

If you’re concerned about online privacy, you should be using Mozilla Firefox. Firefox has many useful extensions that provide functionality which is not available on other browsers.

If your network administrator won’t let you install Firefox, you can still download Portable Firefox. Just save that file to your desktop and double-click it to get started.

Firefox Add-ons

Here is a list of Firefox extensions that you can install to increase your privacy while browsing the web.

Turn On the Built-in Protection

Search about:config for privacy.trackingprotection.enabled and double click it so that it says true. There are instruction on Mozilla.org. See also: How to Customize Firefox with about:config.

Turn “Click to Play” on for Flash

Go to the Firefox menu and click on the plugins option that says “Add-ons”.  Then click “Plugins”. You’ll see a list of plugins, including Shockwave Flash. I set Flash (and actually all of the plugins) to “Ask to activate”. Many trackers use Flash, so I make sure it can’t run without permission.

Tracker Blocking

You should use one of the following extensions: Ghostery, Privacy BadgerDisconnect or DoNotTrackMe.

Self Destructing Cookies

Self-destructing cookies automatically destroys a site’s cookies when you leave the site. I really like this extension.

You can protect cookies on a per-site basis. Just look for the icon shown in the image below. To allow cookies to be saved for a specfic website, click the icon. Red means “destroy cookies”, yellow means “save cookies only for this browser session”, and green means “don’t destroy cookies on this site”.

Self Destructing Cookies for Firefox
Self Destructing Cookies

Adblock Plus

Many online ads are tracking you. You can remove them with Adblock Plus. By default, it allows some ads to be shown, but you can go into the settings and uncheck the box that allows those “unobtrusive” ads.

Update, June 2014: the Adblock Plus extension may consume memory, so you may want to consider that. I’m trying Ghostery.

Update, May 2015: Ghostery isn’t perfect, but as long as you don’t enable “Ghostrank”, it looks okay.

Better Privacy

Better Privacy helps protect you from things called LSOs, a.k.a., “Flash cookies”. Flash cookies are one way that you can be tracked. You can copy the recommended settings below if you would like. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Better Privacy for Firefox
Better Privacy

RefControl

A very few sites require referrers to be turned on. RefControl, is a good way to control how referrers are sent. It’s a more flexible solution than blocking referrers with the Web Developer toolbar.

RefControl will only work if you configure it first. The options in the screenshot below are good options. They will block referrers sent from third party sites while allowing referrers within a site.

Firefox RefControl Settings
Firefox RefControl Settings

HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere makes an encrypted connection between your computer and major websites where available.

NoScript

Update, June 2014: I don’t use this extension at the moment, since I’m blocking most trackers with other extensions.

NoScript is probably the most important extension for privacy, but it takes some getting used to. It works by disabling JavaScript, which is the computer language that powers most of the trackers.  You can then allow JavaScript for individual websites that you trust.

It takes a little while for NoScript to learn which websites you trust, but works to block most trackers and even malware that can attack your computer.

Many websites don’t work with NoScript, so if this extension is too much trouble, turn it off.

New Extensions

Update, June 2014: In the time since I originally wrote this post, there are some new extensions. You may also want to experiment with Privacy Badger and Lightbeam. Also check out the full selection of online privacy tools that Firefox offers.

Additional Firefox Settings

In the Firefox options, you can check the box that says “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked”.

I also recommend only accepting cookies from visited sites. I “keep cookies until they expire” because the Self Destructing Cookies extension will delete the ones that I don’t want on my computer.

See the screenshot below for an example of how to set things up:

Firefox Cookie Settings
Firefox Cookie Settings

It appears that some extensions may try to maliciously change your 3rd party cookie settings, which is something that you might have to keep an eye on. This is a problem that Firefox needs to fix.

Private Browsing Mode

Firefox also has a private browsing mode that you can switch to in order to surf the Web with a different set of cookies. Use the Firefox menu to open a private window or press ctrl-shift-p.

Have a Secondary Browser Profile Ready

After you install some of these extensions, you may encounter an occasional website that doesn’t work correctly. To solve that, you can actually run two separate instances of Firefox the same time. Check out this tutorial on how to do it. There is also information about Firefox profiles here.

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