Tag Archives: firefox

My current Firefox no-saying suite

One of my theories about humanity is that, in many areas, people divide into two natural or conditioned inclinations. One of the simplest is the question: what’s your default answer? Do you fundamentally prefer to say “yes” or “no”?

I believe that most people prefer to say “yes.” I believe that more people find it harder to say “no” and easier to say “yes.” People, companies, police, etc. take advantage of this to bully information out of the average person.

As a solid “no,” this does not mean that I cannot cooperate, that I cannot assent, that I cannot sometimes just go along. It means that, without a reason, the answer is a default “no.” For example, nearly anything my wife asks of me is perfectly reasonable. She’s my wife and it’s my job to help her in every way. Thus, her answer is nearly always “yes.” The post office, Amazon, my grocery store, telemarketers, and so forth do not enjoy her privileges. I don’t want to help or cooperate with them unless I have a good reason, such as “I would like my mail delivered correctly,” or “Amazon needs to know this information in order to ship me these cans of duster.” Will I put my grocery cart back in the collection space? Sure, because I think it’s a positive contribution. Can they compile a dossier on everything I eat and drink? Not with any help from me.

What seems automatic decisionmaking for most people is not automatic in my world, but it still produces a lot of “yes.” If I don’t make sure my recycling is clean, it’ll cause problems for something worthwhile, so it gets rinsed out. “Yes.” If my trash cans are not in a feasible spot, the trucks will not be able to get to them; “yes.” Lots of life circumstances come with good reasons. The bank wants to see my ID to let me into my account? “Yes.” I should hope they always do. However, the grocery store wants me to create a record of my purchases with a ‘loyalty card’? “No.” But we’ll give you a discount! No. I choose to view it that you impose a surcharge in order not to have this dossier created. I will mostly choose to shop someplace else. Thus, “no.” Every supposed discount can also be viewed as a surcharge for those not qualifying for that discount, which is not how our precious corporations hope you will think.

Because the default answer is no–let’s call me a no-sayer–I do not make it easy for random organizations to get information about me. Why do I care? They aren’t entitled to know why I care, either. That’s how the no-sayer thinks. If I were suddenly exposed to media attention, I would first ask myself whether I were in a position to manipulate them for my benefit. After all, they seek access for their own benefit. If I were in such a position–if I had a reason–I’d consider it. If not, “no.” Why not? No answer. Don’t you want to tell your side of the story? No answer. Do you have cut vocal cords? No answer. Even a negative answer beyond “no” would provide information, crack the door open. Only “no” followed by silence is a complete zero for them. They are not entitled to an answer, nor are they entitled to know why they are not entitled to one and will not receive it. Nothing.

“What do you have to hide?” “None of your business.” “Why?” “Also none of your damn business.”

Car dealers hate no-sayers. The sales rep starts asking questions, and gets very annoyed if one won’t answer them. Most of the people who have no right to information will eventually obtain it because yes-sayers are afraid to be thought rude or uncooperative. I saw it all the time with collection agencies, as I inherited a Boise deadbeat’s phone number (and a lot of people in Boise end up broke, so that probably isn’t rare). A couple of these calls came in per week. The collection agents all felt entitled to answers to their questions about this indebted person. They did not enjoy being told that they weren’t entitled even to ask questions until they answered all of mine. They persisted in trying to ask the questions and acted as though I were very mean by insisting on my basic right. They were used to hammering down resistance through repetition, which suggests that it works. Far as I was concerned, they’d initiated the call; they could either answer me to my satisfaction, or get nothing. And since I had no reason to help them, my questions would never end; they would never get anything. Collection agencies provide a perfect example of where the no-sayer produces an unwanted consequence.

This brings us to the Internet, a place where it seems someone is always asking for our private information–and mining it without telling us. What other websites have you visited today, hmm? Fascinating! Browsing the Web involves expecting salvo after salvo of information requests, many of which one’s browser will answer accurately by default. This, of course, is inimical to the no-sayer. The firm no-sayer will tend, to the limits of his or her free time and technical aptitude, to seek out new ways to say “no.”

NO TREK. No: the final response. These are the voyages of the starship Neverprise. Its continuing mission: to refuse companies permission to explore my data; to seek out new ways to say and enforce “no”; to boldly “no” where no one has said “no” before…

Some of my readers may be interested in better no-saying for fun and privacy. I use a crapload (ten of which compose a crapton) of Firefox add-ins, most intended to assert my right to control the answer and direct it toward “no.” If I’m going to say “yes”, I’ll be needing a good reason. And if the add-on can allow me to give false information, when true information is not my obligation, that’s even better. I consider myself within my moral right to lie at will to any question I consider inappropriate (or where lying is dangerous). My car insurance company is owed an answer about what car I drive, where I park it, etc. Some random agency is not entitled to know that. I’m entitled to tell them I drive a circa 1910s Stanley Steamer that runs on virgin macadamia oil.

If you would like to say a whole lot of “no” to nosey websites, I’m here to help you. Here’s the current “no” lineup, a work in progress:

Adblock Plus, and Adblock Plus Pop-Up Add-On: one of the most basic ways to avoid seeing advertising. I will disable it on certain pages if I feel that is deserved.

Cookie Monster: this enables me to accept or reject a site’s cookies. There are limits to how well this can work, because most sites that require a login will require cookies. Nearly every other site includes a bullshit statement that “by using this site you agree to use of cookies.” I block the cookies anyway. Since they can’t enforce that, it means nothing; I don’t morally recognize any supposed agreement or contract with a stupid basis, such as ‘reading this means you agree.’ If the site won’t work without them, I decide how much I care about it. If I care a lot, I either accept the cookies for session only, or just do it from a browser that has no add-ons installed. That way, at least their cookies are in a jar that gives limited information. If a no-sayer cannot simply say “no,” the next best answer is this electronic noncommittal grunt. Call it numph-saying.

Disconnect: blocks most third-party tracking. No single add-on can be trust to block everything one dislikes, so it’s okay to double up if you don’t mind the performance impact. For me, it’s worth it to say “no.” The no-sayer’s obvious default answer to all tracking is “oh hell no.” One has to enable Disconnect’s content blocking on a site-by-site basis. So far I have not run into a site where blocking the tracking content impaired the site for me.

DuckDuckGo Plus: at this point, I am not sure I need this. DuckDuckGo itself, as a search engine, doesn’t track me. (For this reason, I turn off my ad blocker while using it. They asked politely, so I didn’t mind saying “yes.” It’s amazing how nice and cooperative I get when asked politely with a good reason.) The add-on claims to do a lot of privacy-related stuff. Maybe it does. If so, great. If not, it doesn’t cost me much performance (if any).

FB Purity: rearranges Facebook to one’s liking, enabling various garbage to be blocked and other aspects of it less odious. There is, of course, a limit to how much of FB’s data hydra activity one can prevent while being the product for its marketing (and make no mistake, you aren’t the customer; you are the product for sale). Most people just throw their hands up. As a stolid no-sayer, my response is “then I’ll block what I can; if I’m out of weapons, I’ll claw with my fingernails; if all I have is an eyebrow hair, I’ll slug ’em with that.”

Facebook Tracking & Ad Removal: I would like this just for the sake of its icon, which is a flipped bird. Gets rid of at least some Facebook garbage. Might be overkill combined with FBP. I’m willing to accept that possibility. I operate on the assumption that Zuckbook is forever re-engineering itself to defeat all ad blocking and self-customization, and that any add-on may cease working at any time without notice until it receives an update, so the more, the merrier as long as they don’t overload the browser and cause it to collapse.

Fakespot: this can be used to assess the bot production level of product reviews. If one suspects that a given product has a lot of bogus puff reviews generated by automated means, it’s worth running.

Flashstopper: halts video autoplay. I hate video autoplay. If I want to see or hear the video, I’ll elect to play it myself.

Forecastfox: a good weather add-in. Worth whatever tracking is caused by having to give it a location. (Since it cannot tell you the weather unless you tell it a location, the request is reasonable.)

Ghostery: another tracker blocker. The fact that it usually finds some tells me that the overlap with other add-ins is worthwhile. The interesting here is what it tells you. Wonder how come FB seems to know so much about your online habits? There’s a tracker called Facebook Connect that is found all over the place. This lets you put a stop to that. I just block every single tracker; if something doesn’t work, I’ll consider some selective enabling. So far it never has. When you win a bid on Ebay, for example, instead of the normal Ebay Stats tracker, you get about ten others that can only want to know what you bought. Blocking them all doesn’t impair your purchase, so this is just the corporate world continuing to compile its dossier on your shopping habits.

GoogleSharing: this is just delicious. This add-in mixes up your Google requests with others and sprays them at Google, thus peeing in the data mining pool–and there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do about it. Anyone who read the preamble will understand how little I like the idea of Google forming a neat little profile about me.

Honey: this digs up discount codes for online shopping. Haven’t saved any money so far, but haven’t had it long.

NoMiner: it seems cryptocurrency ‘miners’ (who need a lot of processing power in order to make money) are using our machines to do some of the processing. No. This is my most recent add. I think cryptocurrency is pretty questionable anyway, but even if it’s completely smart and good, my clock cycles are not public property.

NoScript: this one is among the few that can cause pains in the ass. Most websites use many scripts from many sites, a good percentage of which are designed to feed data hydras. One by one, I will enable these for this session only, until the portion of the page I care about begins to work. Some I just have to set it to accept all the time. Using this means that I sometimes have to use a clean alternate browser. I can’t fault the pages in question for not working when I block some of their functionality, but I can at least reserve the right to decide when to allow them to work.

Here’s a key part of the no-sayer’s code: one must understand that this has its consequences, especially with websites. Developers set all that stuff up to work together. They can’t prevent you from taking out pieces, but it’s like a vehicle engine: all the pieces do something, and if you take some out, some things will not work right. If you just want to drive during the day, you can disconnect your headlights, but you then cannot complain if you forget to reconnect them come dusk, and if you cause an accident through your neglect, that’s your own fault. Own your “no.”

PriceBlink: something like Honey, but will dig for alternate and better prices on online shopping. Good referent.

ReminderFox: my personal calendar. It’s how I remember to make that grocery run, or someone’s birthday, etc. Essential.

Remove Cookies for Site: this is what we do when we had to enable cookies in order to proceed, but want them gotten rid of afterward. If it doesn’t find any, then great; someone actually meant it when they said the cookies were session only. I never take their word for that. If it does find some, also great. I don’t use it that often, but on some really cookie-filthy sites it makes me feel better.

Remove Google Tracking: says it removes tracking from Google searches. Now and then I end up using Google to search, though not often. This makes me feel a little less nude about it.

Tab Memory Usage: kind of nifty, tells me how much data the current tab is using. Nice to know which sites are the most porcine.

The Camelizer: this thing rocks. You use it for an Amazon item you consider too spendy, and tell it your email and what you’d like to pay for the item. When you get your price, it notifies you, and you can proceed to purchase it if you wish.

TrackMeNot: something like GS, barfing out a steady stream of spurious search requests. Gives the data hydra something useless to suck on.

View Cookies: want to know what the current page’s cookies are? Good prelude to deleting them.

Web of Trust: this will flag search results with a little circle: green, yellow, or red. One that is red has been reported by enough users as malevolent in some way. Not all ways are relevant to all people; for example, one thing that will get reported is child-inappropriate stuff. You can check the reason and make your own decision.

Yahoo Mail Hide Ad Panel: self-explanatory. Yes, I know that Yahoo funds itself with these ads. No, I do not care. Yahoo has its problems and I have mine.

Does all of this slow Firefox down? Maybe. Is all of it necessary? Maybe not. Does it all make me feel like I am properly noncooperating with nosy people to the greatest extent possible? Yes–and some of you may find one or more of these useful.


My current privacy array

I’m fairly sure I’m at the right asymptote of ‘willingness to go through headaches and try new things in order to thwart people’s data gathering just because.’ The tools for this are in a state of constant change, so this might be a time for an update.

My basic browser is Firefox 16.0.2, not because I want to be on that version, but because I was forced by sunsetting to upgrade from a previous version. FF has heavy memory leaks, and has become clunky, but a) it has the most add-ins, b) I hated Safari, c) there is no way I’m going to let Chrome have its way with me, and d) these days, if you use Internet Explorer to do anything but download a real browser, your friends will stage an intervention. “Jonathan, we’ve all come here because we care about you. Your use of IE has affected my life negatively in the following ways…” For all FF’s flaws, it has the most dynamic privacy tool authoring community, and that’s what matters most to me.

It begins with Adblock Plus, which hides just about all the advertising, everywhere. There is a certain irony in all the efforts I exert in order to ruin Facebook’s data mining, when I don’t in fact see their consequent advertising. ABP is low maintenance. It has the added benefit of allowing me spot removal of any image I happen to find offensive and just don’t need to see again.

NoScript is a very helpful package that doesn’t let JavaScripts run unless I say so. It probably also accounts for most of the headaches and tweaks I go through, because it goes by site, and some pages have scripts from fourteen different sources (some of which you only learn of after unblocking this other one). Which one is the one needed in order to do what I came to the page to do? At times I have to turn it off temporarily, but I usually just enable scripts one at a time for the session.

FlashBlock is easier than NoScript because it shows a ‘play’ button on the screen where the Flash content is. Usually it’s a video. Do videos automatically play when you go to a page? Not for me, they don’t, and that’s how I want it.

TACO is wonderful, because it does the best job on cookies. For example, I can accept Facebook cookies on Facebook and on the one game that I play, while blocking them everywhere else. I have to do that one page at a time, but once you do it for the pages you visit most, it’s less necessary every day. That also lets me blow away Google’s ubiquitous cookie-mongering. There is no reason either of those sites needs to set a cookie on my browser just because I visited, say, CNN. That visit, and what I did there, is neither Google’s nor Facebook’s business. While TACO also blocks most web trackers, it doesn’t do it as well as…

Ghostery. In addition to cookies, many sites use beacons/web trackers to keep tabs on what you do. Ghostery blocks nearly all of them by default. If it finds one unblocked, you can choose to add it to the list. Very easy to use, and very satisfying.

GoogleSharing partly convinces Google that I’m somewhere else. Currently, Google News thinks I’m in Austin, TX. Once in a while, I believe when GS resets to a new ‘location,’ my GN shows up in a foreign edition and I have to change it. Although if it’s a language I understand, sometimes I’ll do a bit of reading first. GS says that it anonymizes my search results in some way; sounds good to me.

TrackMeNot spams Google with spurious searches on mundane things. The effect of this is to bury my actual Google searches in a sea of irrelevant crap. Slight downside is that sometimes it gets a little zealous, and Google makes me do Captcha in order to search, announcing that it has detected a lot of traffic from my IP address. This is rare.

WebOfTrust assigns reliability/safety icons to links, especially in Google searches. This mainly keeps one from blundering into sites that attempt to emplace spyware or viruses on your machine. Foolproof it’s not; helpful it is. Part of the problem is that the color of the icon could mean anything from ‘naughty pictures’ to ‘unsafe due to spyware,’ and you have to hover the mouse in order to find out. Part of the problem is that the safety rating of a page comes mainly from user input, so it’s possible that a given page was given adverse ratings simply because a bunch of people wanted to hurt the page’s owner. Use it with some discernment, and it’s helpful.

What are the downsides?

The biggest one is the need to selectively enable JavaScripts until a page works. I admit that sometimes I just punt and use another, unshielded browser. Since I don’t go from place to place with other browsers much, the dossier they compile from them is a tiny fraction of my web surfing. It’s also pretty much impossible to know which script unlocked what I wanted, unless I do it one at a time, which is often more futzing that I desire.

Second biggest is needing to go into TACO each time I go to a new page and block/delete all its cookies. You’d be amazed how many sites stick you with Firefox or Google cookies; WordPress and Yahoo are also frequent offenders.

Third would be the inability to save Google search settings because I won’t take Google cookies on their search page. At times, the non-evil folks at Google break Google search for people who do this–I’m convinced it’s to teach us a lesson.

Fourth would be that you have to use Firefox, which isn’t a very efficient or robust browser compared to others. For games, I use Sleipnir, Opera and/or Maxthon. Sleipnir and Maxthon are very robust. Opera is lousy, but it’s good to have some backup without resorting to IE. Maxthon’s update nags are very annoying; haven’t found out how to get them out of the system tray. At least I can ignore Opera and FF’s update nags.

Anyway, if you want to try browsing my way, there are all the links. Enjoy.