I am interested in improving the privacy available to me as a casual internet user with a default browser. I think that Tor is too slow and that the "Privacy Mode" in browsers isn't really practical. I don't care about hiding the history from myself in fact I like having a local history. I care about companies tracking me and profiting from it. There are a lot of Firefox addons for "Privacy and Security". But which ones work, and why do they work?

Interesting TED talk: Tracking the Trackers.

  • Are you talking about web browsing or other Internet applications? Do you use a stable IP address for browsing? Do you keep cookies beyond session?
    – curiousguy
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 19:35
  • @curiousguy browsing with a default browser. (I like firefox :)
    – Mikey
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 19:36
  • 1
    ""Privacy Mode" in browsers isn't really practical." what is wrong with "private mode"?
    – curiousguy
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 19:53
  • curiousguy, private mode, if I recall correctly, just means local history/cookie/cache writes are cleared after use. It's for hiding your usage from other users on the same system.
    – chao-mu
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 19:59
  • @chao-mu "curiousguy," please use "@curiousguy" "private mode, if I recall correctly," you don't "just means local history/cookie/cache writes are cleared after use. It's for hiding your usage from other users on the same system." not only
    – curiousguy
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 20:58

4 Answers 4


Below is a response to the title "improving the privacy of a casual internet user". As for individual plugins, you'll have to research and ask on an individual basis.

Block ads. This is an easy way to cut off forced interaction (e.g. image and iframe loads, popups, etc.) and prevents someone from getting paid for your clicks/views. If you are using Firefox, checkout Adblock Plus

Lie. During registration processes, don't be afraid to omit or falsify your age, phone number, location, etc. Within the extent of the law, of course. If you want help, seek this identity generator

Think about what information you're disclosing. Remember that things like emails (both sent AND received) and search queries are fair game for the companies who provide the service.

Keep informed. If these topics matter to you, stay current with the EFF and other whistle blowing groups.

  • +1 I like these solutions, but I think more can be done.
    – Mikey
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 22:53
  • @user5621, I agree. I turned it into a community wiki. Hopefully others can add onto it.
    – chao-mu
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 23:47

For improving your privacy on webpages there are a number of things you can do. The trouble is, doing some of these things may break functionality. For example, if you disable all cookies then you may not be able to log into some websites.

Try not to give out personal information (such as your name or e-mail address) whenever possible. You can use disposible e-mail addresses when registering for sites you don't want e-mail from. You an ad-filter such as adblock plus. Also FireFox's BetterPrivacy add-on removes Flash based tracking cookies (this is what's discused in the TED talk). HTTPS Everywhere is another good add-on for Fire Fox which forces the browser to use a secure connection when possible.

That's the worst TED talk I've seen, he doesn't really explain anything. I usually really like TED talks.


Some more suggestions:

  • refrain from curiously clicking on 'interesting' links/pictures
  • if you're browsing logged on google for example, your profile is building up from everything you do, and stored somewhere.
  • pay attention when registering to new sites, for what you're really registering
  • have privacy in mind, whether you're registering on a new social network or creating a wish list on amazon
  • don't bee too paranoid, just a little so you don't stop asking :)

A thorough guide on Social Networking Privacy. Very good to read and ponder about.


Two things to add to the other valid answers. You can configure these settings in any major browser, without plugins.

  1. Block third party cookies. This is huge. Any time you see a Facebook "Like" button on a web page and you're not blocking third party cookies, you're being tracked. This is true for other widgets you may see. Most tracking is done via third party cookies, and it usually doesn't break (important) functionality on websites if you disable it.
  2. Tell your browser to clear cookies when you exit. Any random cookies you pick up during one session will at least not be carried over to the next. The only downside is that you'll have to re-login to whatever services you use every time you open your browser. That should be trivial though, especially if you use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password.

Adblock Plus (Chrome and Firefox) is great because it prevents tracking elements from being downloaded in the first place. You can also configure it to block more than just ads as well.

  • If you have a stable IP address, does clearing cookies really helps?
    – curiousguy
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 2:47
  • IP addresses are not very useful for tracking individuals, as several individuals usually share the same IP address with NAT. The purpose of clearing cookies is to make it more difficult to analyze browsing behavior - "Phil owns this Facebook account, and he regularly visits websites X, Y, and Z"
    – Phil
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 12:39
  • For a home DSL line, "several individuals" is usually few persons from the same family. And even with cookies you have to face the same issue: many people sharing the same computer with just one account, sharing one cookie jar. ""Phil owns this Facebook account, and he regularly visits websites X, Y, and Z"" blocking G+/FB widgets in other sites would have the same effect.
    – curiousguy
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 16:48
  • True. Honestly, it's just an extra safeguard, not an essential. Over time cookies still build up even when blocking ads, "like" buttons, and third party cookies. If they're removed regularly, people will have a harder time tracking you. And while they can track you by IP address, it's a much more limited tracking mechanism than cookies.
    – Phil
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 18:44

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