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After #NacktImNetz: This is how you protect yourself and your browser

While Angela Merkel and the Union parties continue to call for an end to data economy, because this principle would damage the economy, the NDR research #NacktImNetz is again highlighting the ruthless business with our data. Once again it becomes clear: Without a fundamental rethink in politics and society, neither the protection of our privacy nor people's trust in new technologies can be strengthened.

For individuals, however, the consequences of the current scandal must also lie in the end of comfort. High time to clean out your own browser!

For the most part, the following recommendations relate to surfing with a PC or laptop. Good instructions for more privacy protection on the smartphone can be found on a topic page from mobilprüf.de.

1. Thinking

Yes, life could be so much better if you could just trust everyone. But you can't. In view of the effort that goes into getting information about us, it is not easy to have good protection of your own privacy while surfing.

Basically, just because a lot of people use an offer doesn't mean that the service is secure and privacy-friendly (the best example is WhatsApp). At least these three questions should be asked before using a service, agreeing to terms and conditions and data protection conditions or installing a program:

  • What is the business model behind the offer? We live in information capitalism. The fact that we pay online with our data has seldom been more evident than it was these days. There are non-profit and open projects that do not develop software for free, but make it available for free. In most cases, however, the following applies: If you don't have to pay, you are the product.
  • Is the source code openly available? If so, then that is no guarantee that a service will not be used for purposes other than those communicated, but it can at least be checked by people who are familiar with it.
  • What do others say about it? A little research for assessments and expertise on a service should therefore already be included.

2. Do not use the wrong browser

There is no such thing as the perfect privacy-sensitive browser that is suitable for the masses. Some browsers only protect the privacy of their users with the right settings and extensions. Without wanting to make a final recommendation, it can be stated that most of such add-ons are offered for the market leaders Firefox and Chrome. For the latter, manufacturer Google has been granting the right for some time to merge and evaluate the data collected via the browser, including surfing history, with other information that the company stores about its users.

Even if it is slower: For sensitive things you should only use the Tor Browser (although this, of course, cannot guarantee absolute security either).

3. Check browser settings

Certain basic settings should be made regardless of the browser or operating system used. In this way, a few holes can be plugged before they develop into a constant data leak.

  • Deactivate third-party cookies.
  • Deactivate Flash and Java or do not install them at all.
  • Set a search engine other than Google, e.g. B. DuckDuckGo.
  • Activate Do Not Track.
  • If possible: Do not let plug-ins load automatically, but only after prior confirmation.
  • Update your browser and add-ons regularly.

4. Adjust browser add-ons

As with smartphone apps, in view of the gold rush mood in the data economy, the following also applies to browser add-ons: less is more. If you haven't checked which extensions have been installed for your browser in a long time, you should do so now - and preferably sort out most of them right away. In the course of the discussion about #nacktimnetz, the two often used plugins "Web of trust" and "Proxtube" attracted negative attention because they sell their users' surfing histories to data dealers. Commercial fake solutions such as Adblock-Plus or Ghostery, which have been recommended for a long time, are now considered problematic. We're looking to the Riseup community for this because it brings together trustworthy people with relevant experience in online privacy.

In its “Better Surfing” tutorial, the collective recommends three essential extensions that should not be missing in any browser. All three are open source, are considered stable and do not make surfing too difficult despite their protective function. And: their authors, in two cases the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are trustworthy:

  • HTTPS Everywhere: The extension for Firefox, Chrome and Opera forces an encrypted connection to Internet sites where possible. Alexander Lehmann explains why this is important and how it works in a four-minute video.
  • uBlock Origin: The extension for Chrome and Firefox browsers helps to block selected content and thus protects against unwanted advertising. Works similarly to Adblock Plus or Disconnect - but better and faster.
  • Privacy Badger: The extension for Firefox and Chrome browsers developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation recognizes tracking attempts and blocks them.

For those who want even more privacy protection, the Riseup tutorial is available at Advanced extensions even more tips for helpful add-ons.

Addendum: Matthias Eberl rightly points out the problem of browser fingerprinting in the comments, with which tracking is also possible without cookies and which cannot be completely prevented by the extensions described here. He explained his suggestion, the consistent use of two browsers and (at least) two IP addresses, in his blog Rufposten.

Political solutions to protect privacy would be possible

One can rightly ask oneself why one actually has to take all these measures just to be able to be reasonably protected on the Internet. Even if the business practice of the "Web of Trust" and other supposed security add-ons is probably already illegal under current legislation: The problem is bigger than a few black sheep. The simple premise of the big data economy is: “More data is always better.” The commercial data collectors and the dark gray market in which information about us is traded are neither transparent for consumers nor adequately controlled by the public.

Politicians who are dismayed today by the latest scandal are serious about protecting our privacy, they will soon be able to show: Urgent political steps are, for example, the upcoming reform of the EU ePrivacy Directive and the German implementation of the European General Data Protection Regulation possible.

If you don't want to wait for it, you should check your own privacy protection as soon as possible.

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About the author


Ingo is a communication scientist and has been an editor at netzpolitik.org since 2016. He writes and speaks about data politics, surveillance capitalism and the digital structural change of the public. Ingo gives workshops for young and older people in digital self-defense and teaches at universities on the political economy of digital media. He also moderates events and discussions, for example at re: publica or at the Internet Political Evening in Berlin. Ingo is a member of the Digital Society Association and the EKD Chamber of Social Ethics and advises church organizations on digital transformation. Contact: Ingo is by mail to ingo | point | dachwitz | ett | netzpolitik.org (PGP key) available and on Twitter as @roofjoke.
Published 03/11/2016 at 5:03 PM