January 1, 2021

Browsers, Privacy, and Research Part 1

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

All y'all should know up front that this series of articles is based on my experiences as a Window 10 desktop computer user. Many of the things discussed will apply to laptops (are they different from notebooks?), but mobile devices will be left alone for the most part. Exploring browsers can be fun!

So many browsers out there to choose from. Most do the job right out of the box. Beginning a series on my browsers, and will discuss extensions.
Credit: Pixabay / Pete Linforth

While many people are content to use the browser that came with their computer, they may ignore the fact that there are many browsers to choose from. Since Google (the parent company is Alphabet) dominates teh interwebs, sojourners on their properties are inundated with, "Hey, we're the best! Download Chrome!", which is probably why they have a huge market share (a difficult process that reminds this child of political polling) in the browser wars. The dominant browser years ago was Internet Explorer, which more experienced users loved to hate.

If you want to move around the web, the major browsers will get the job done. Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi (which evolved from Opera), Safari —

"That creation scientist also designed a browser, Cowboy Bob?"

No, you're thinking of Dr. Jonathan Sarfati.

Firefox, Edge (the Microsoft replacement for Internet Explorer), and many more. They will get the basic job done right out of the box. What I am going to discuss are the browsers (and later, the extensions/add-ons) that I have used.


Considering Privacy

Should we be concerned about tracking and privacy? It's a tough call, and it may feel like the big companies know everything about each of us already, so there's not point in bothering. After all if you disable those packets of data known as cookies, your internet activities will be severely curtailed. Most are good, some are used by sidewinders to spy on us. They can generally be cleared out of browsers, but if you get radical on clearing the browser's cache, you must log in at every site where you've logged in before.

The most popular browsers claim to protect your privacy, but many people are leery of Chrome because of Google's reputation for censorship, tracking, allegedly selling information, and so on. While my weblogs are a part of Google's ecosystem, I still try to reduce my activity.

I do not use Chrome very much. Just as a standby.

Several browsers have enhanced protection built in and active, though some require the user to enable them. Ad-blocking, anti-fingerprinting, suspicious site protection, and more are there to help us. Don't be disunderstanding me, Chrome has privacy features as well and they are probably effective.

One of the simplest privacy extensions is that special function that has names like "In Private", "Incognito", "Private Mode", and similar. This bad boy lets you visit any site, but it's like you've never been there before. You'll have to log in to sites (including 2-step verification if enabled), but cookies and history are made to go away when you close it. Not only does that help with internet privacy, but snoopy spouses, children, siblings, dorm mates, and so on.

Stick a Fork in It

The ranch house for many browsers is open source code. Modifications of browsers are sometimes called forks. Mayhaps it has something to do with a fork in the road, because I can't see a culinary connection. Chrome, Vivaldi, Edge, and others are based on the Chromium source. From Chromium, the other companies add their own bells and whistles. In many ways, a Chrome user can download other browsers, import their bookmarks/favorites and other data, and see little or no difference. Firefox also has forks, but those seem less common and are considered unreliable or even pointless because FFX is more powerful.


Having Multiple Browsers

Apparently most people just use one browser. That's fine, and the privacy-minded can have extensions that help a great deal (more about that another time). However, having a One Browser to Rule them All mindset cuts down on the privacy. It has been suggested to have different browsers for different purposes.

You can have one for banking and other financial activities, another for social(ist) media, a third for— well, you get the idea. Listen, it's not a commitment. You bought the horse but don't like the way it balks at jumping fences, take it back. I mean, browser. I haven't seen one that you have to purchase outright, so if it doesn't work, uninstall it. I'm partial to Revo Uninstaller, and have used the free version for years until I upgraded to the paid version just recently. But never mind about that now.

That's enough for this first installment. I'll tell you about my main browsers, some that are auxiliary, and a couple of others next time. However, I'm looking forward to discussing extensions and why some are essential, but a security risk. Oh, a bonus right now: ditch the browser toolbars, they usually have malware or other risks. Look it up. To read the second part about browsers themselves, click here.


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