Sometimes it can seem like the whole internet wants to track you. Certainly, there are a lot of firms and entities that do. But not Apple — in fact, the company is taking the exact opposite approach.
Apple, true to its long-standing commitment to user privacy, has recently debuted features in iOS 12 and macOS Mojave that put an end to several tracking methods.
But what if you don’t have either of those operating systems yet? Similarly, if you’re a Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox user, you’re mostly out of luck when it comes to these Safari privacy features.
Luckily, there are a wealth of well-reviewed and reputable privacy plugins available for both Chrome and Firefox. By downloading and using these, you can mimic some or all of the new functionality implemented in iOS 12 and Mojave.
Third-party trackers are everywhere online. It’s not a stretch to say that most websites feature some sort of tracking system.
These trackers are often used by tech titans like Google or Facebook to target ads. Ever notice an ad “follow” you around the internet? That’s thanks to trackers.
Trackers are often invisible, too. As Apple pointed out during WWDC ’18, social media like and comment icons are one form of data harvesting tool.
- New Privacy and Security Features Coming to macOS Mojave and iOS 12
- How to Protect your Privacy by Clearing Search footprints from your iPhone
- Is your MacBook Tracking You? Discover this one Setting on your macOS
While Safari in macOS Mojave and iOS 12 will feature measures to stop third-party tracking, you can use these third-party plugins to bring that privacy to Chrome or Firefox.
Starting off, you might notice that Privacy Badger doesn’t seem to do much. But that’s purely because it’s set up to learn as it goes.
Basically, when you’re using the internet, Privacy Badger is keeping an eye on all of the trackers and data collectors embedded within websites. It blocks the ones that appear to misbehave while placing restrictions on others.
The end result is that third-party trackers and advertisers will no longer be able to gather data on you or target ads.
All of this is customizable, too. In the plugin menu, you can unblock trackers that Privacy Badger targets — or block ones that it didn’t.
It’s also developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on protecting the digital rights of internet users. That, in itself, is a plus.
Disconnect is another great choice when to comes to blocking invisible and third-party trackers on the web.
The plugin blocks a range of third-party trackers and cookies, and gives you some control over site scripts with an easy menu.
Unlike Privacy Badger, however, Disconnect relies on an existing repository of blacklisted sites. Whether that’s a plus or a con is up to you.
As far as downsides, Disconnect can “break” certain websites. It also has a habit of making false positives. Still, it’s a solid option.
As an added plus, it also bumps up browsing speed by up to 44 percent, according to its developers.
During the WWDC ’18 keynote, Apple also touched on another form of user tracking. A technique called fingerprinting.
Fingerprinting is, in layman’s terms, a way of identifying your specific device based on unique metrics. That includes your installed fonts, certain preferences and systems specifications, and even the browser plugins you use.
macOS Mojave and iOS 12 will introduce measures to help stop fingerprinting. But for other browsers, it’s a tricky thing to guard against.
That’s especially true because most plugins — even supposedly anti-fingerprinting ones — will actually help data trackers identify your system.
Random User Agent
Random User Agent is a browser plugin that, according to its developers, stops “data leakage.”
It does this by automatically changing your “user agent,” which is a string of code that is sent to websites that you visit.
This code contains various data that can be used to fingerprint you, like your operating system, browser, plugins, etc.
To stop this, the plugin changes your user agent to a random spoofed one. Basically, your browser and device might look like something completely different. You can make Chrome on a Mac look like Firefox on Windows.
There’s also a degree of customization here. You can select which browsers or operating systems you’d like to spoof in lieu of your own, for example.
While most browser-based plugins will actually make you more easily identifiable, Canvas Defender is one option that doesn’t.
Rather than directly blocking canvas fingerprinting techniques, Canvas Defender makes the process a bit harder.
The plugin creates a “unique and persistent” noise that helps to hide your actual device fingerprint. It also notifies you when websites attempt to fingerprint your device.
If there’s a downside to the app, it’s probably the consistent and rather annoying notifications when a site is attempting to fingerprint you.
Hopefully, the developers add a way to silence notifications going forward. In the meantime, it’s still a solid option to fight canvas fingerprinting.
Additional Security Features
In addition to anti-fingerprinting and anti-tracking plugins, there are a few other security- and privacy-related tools you probably should be using. Here are our recommendations
If you’re fairly observant, you may have noticed that some websites will use https before their URL, while others will use http.
While seemingly insignificant, there’s actually a big difference between the two. In the simplest terms possible, HTTPS is much more secure as it encrypts all communication between your browser and a website.
Enter HTTPS Everywhere. Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, this app will automatically switch “http” to “https” on thousands of sites.
This can protect you against account hijacking and various forms of surveillance. Best of all, it’s an incredibly lightweight plugin — you won’t even notice that it’s running.
You may already be using an adblocking plugin. These are fairly handy for doing away with annoying and repetitive ad content on websites.
But you should consider switching to uBlock Origin. Unlike other ad blocking plugins, uBlock Origin is open-source. It’s also incredibly lightweight, meaning it won’t drain your system resources.
It’s easy to use but features an impressive suite of additional features — including various other content filters that go beyond blocking web advertisements.
If you’re in the market for a good ad blocker, you can’t go wrong with this one. Just make sure to whitelist the web pages you read and enjoy so you aren’t depriving them of their income streams!
A Good Password Manager
Lastly, but certainly not least, you want a good password manager. iOS 12 and macOS Mojave will have their own built-in system, but in the meantime, there are a wealth of established options.
Using strong and unique passwords for each of your devices, services, and accounts is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect your privacy and security.
We can recommend 1Password, LastPass and Keeper. Pick the one that appeals to you — but just make sure to use it. Or, you can simply wait until Apple rolls out its own password manager in macOS Mojave.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.