By Jennifer Anne Muirhead
Here are the three free Google Chrome extensions that will help protect you from being tracked, having your data stolen, and being scammed online – none of which are something that I’d wish on my worst enemy, paranoid or not.
A few weeks ago I recommended uBlock Origin in an article I wrote called “5 Pieces of Free, Open-Source Software that Everyone Needs”. I knew it wasn’t software, I just thought it was important, and that everybody should use it. I also didn’t know I’d be writing this series. But now that it’s finally in the right place, let me reintroduce: uBlock Origin, the MacDaddy of ad-blockers. In my original article, I pitted uBlock Origin against AdBlock, not because they are worthy adversaries by any means, but because I assumed most people considered AdBlock to be the default, if not the only ad-blocker out there. I mean, it’s in the name after all. And I was right, to an extent. It is the most popular ad-blocker with more than 40 million users, but there are some other fish in the sea, and I’m here to tell you why uBlock Origin beats them all.
First of all, if you don’t feel like reading this behemoth, here’s the summary: uBlock Origin was rated the fastest and most efficient ad-blocker for both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. It scored highest (that is, lowest) on average load times and peak CPU use and ranked second in peak memory use to Ghostery.
Now, although Ghostery was a close second overall, there’s no way in hell I’d recommend them. Why? Because they’re owned by an advertising company – a company that made its fortune selling user data. Are they currently using Ghostery to collect, and then sell their users data? We have no idea; the code is all closed-source. It’s not worth it, especially for second best. I’d recommend AdBlock before I recommend Ghostery, and they’re an ad-blocker which lets ads through and came dead last in the efficiency test.
Adguard came third and sure, it’s an excellent ad-blocker, but I mean… it came third. Yeah, they don’t sell your data, but neither does uBlock Origin, and they’re faster, and use less of your computers processing power.
So, here’s how I’d sum up the ad-blockers from best to worst: uBlock Origin > Adguard > everything else > AdBlock > Ghostery.
HTTPS Everywhere secures all possible websites with encryption when available. Some backstory: HTTP stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, add yourself an S for Secure and you’ve got HTTPS. Basically, what HTTPS does is keeps all communications between your browser and the website you’re on safe from prying eyes.
This is why it’s used (or at least should be used) for highly confidential online transactions like when you’re banking, or online shopping. It’s also why it’s recommended to always, always, always make sure you’re on a website that uses HTTPS whenever you’re inputting important information like bank card details. You should also be looking for that little green padlock in the address bar.
If you’ve got both, you’re probably fine – cybersecurity is never that simple, but it’s a good first step. HTTPS Everywhere was made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), so they’re 100% legit, and very importantly, malware-free. It’s just that little bit of extra privacy and assurance that I think people forget they need while on the internet.
For those of you not battle-hardened enough to use an ad-blocker (like uBlock Origin) yet, Privacy Badger may be the extension for you. It offers a good middle ground and was designed to promote a balanced approach to internet privacy. In the simplest of terms, it basically tells advertisers, “okay, you can show me ads, so long as you don’t track me online”. Also designed by the EFF, Privacy Badger was created to stop cross-platform trackers. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll break the news to you: you’re currently being tracked. Every website you go to, every item you look at, it is all being tracked, and a profile is being built about you. What you like, what you visit regularly, what you buy. Everything.
This is where Privacy Badger comes in. If an advertiser tries to track you, Privacy Badger will send them a Do Not Track signal. If they ignore your wishes on three different websites, they’re automatically blocked – it is as if you suddenly disappeared. If you feel like seeing ads is your payment to use the internet for free, but also feel as though advertisers tracking every move you make is just a step too far, I recommend using Privacy Badger. Now, if you are already using an ad-blocker (like uBlock Origin), I also recommend using Privacy Badger, so you aren’t being tracked. The point is, I recommend Privacy Badger. Who wants to be tracked?