Tech Sense by John Bell December 2022: Using your Tools: The Browser pt. 2
FYI: Part 1 of this column can be found by clicking here.
The Browser Part 2
This month we will continue our “Using our Tools” series and the discussion on the browser. In part 1 we covered some web browser choices including Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari which covers the majority of the browsers commonly found on the Internet. We also discussed the Tab Bar and the Tool Bar. This month we will cover important browser settings, private browsing, bookmarking, and history.
These instructions are for a Chrome or Firefox browser running under windows. On the far-right hand side of the browsers toolbar you should find a menu represented by either three lines or three dots stacked one on top of another. The three lines are often called a hamburger menu. Selecting the menu should pull-down a menu and near the bottom should be a choice of settings. Selecting settings will open a new browser tab with a menu on the left side where you will find “Privacy & Security”. Selecting this will allow configuration of the privacy options supported by the browser.
There are a lot of setting here, but we will look at just a few. Cookies are used to track information between your browser and each web site you visit. Cookies are sometimes sent from external or “third party” web sites so you can be tracked between sites across the web. In general, this is a violation of your privacy. Whenever you see the Facebook F in a blue circle icon for example Facebook is tracking you and collecting information about which websites you have visited to share with other companies. This tracking occurs even if you do not have a Facebook account.
In Firefox use Enhanced Tracking Protection set to Strict to reduce the number of tacking tools that can be used to follow you across the web. You can also have all cookies deleted whenever you close the browser. A separate “History” tool allows all of your Internet history to be erase to a previous point in time.
Chrome also provides several similar tools, but these are grouped separately. For example, disabling third-party trackers is enabled separately for normal mode and “incognito” mode. Chrome is written by Google and Google make their money by selling targeted ads. So, Google tends to be less friendly to technology that makes it harder to target you as an individual. Currently offers a tool called “Privacy sandbox” that allows Google to run experiments on new ways of tracking customers without revealing specific identifying information about the user. I normally leave this disabled because they do not have a history of success.
Incognito Mode and Private Windows
All of the browsers seem to offer a Private Mode which take steps to reduce the amount of information that can be used to track your browser as you crawl the web. This good when you want to research your cousin’s rare disease without getting followed by a million ads about potential cures. In this case the browser doesn’t save your cookies, history, site data, or data entered into forms. This makes it harder for the sites to track you across other site and across multiple sessions but be aware it does not totally protect you. Firefox has all of this which is further enhance by Advanced Tracking Protection, but the warning still applies.
If you need more privacy than Privacy or Incognito modes can give, I recommend using a good Virtual Private Network (VPN). Firefox offers the Mozilla VPN solution for a $4.99 per month.
Bookmarks and History
So, I have been browsing the web for several hours researching let’s say “Mantle Lanterns” and I have found several interesting sites that I want to come back to later and read in detail. The URLs are 80 characters long so I don’t want to write then down, and my search result list is several pages long and I will never remember how I found them. What do I do? I use a bookmark. The bookmark icon looks like a star (for favorites) found on the right side of the address bar in both Firefox and Chrome. Selecting the icon asks if you want to bookmark the page. Once a page has been bookmarked it can be found by looking it up in the bookmarks collection.
But what if I found something and I forgot to bookmark it? The browser tracks the history of where you have been on the web. This is sort of like Google Maps tracking where you have been on the map. The browser keeps a record of each page you have visited in chronological order and grouped by the domain (top level web site). If you remember the time, you last visited the website it can be pretty easy to look it up using the history. History is not kept if you are using a private window so is not useful in that case.
Again, I have run out of time and space (where is a Tardis when I need one?). Next visit to “Using our Tools” I should be able to wrap up our discussion of the browser when I cover search engines, Home Pages, add-ons, and extensions.