Mozilla's Firefox & Apple's Safari browsers add anti-Facebook and Google privacy protections

Care about your data privacy? Here's a good reason to stop using the Google Chrome browser, and use Firefox or Safari instead on your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices.

Facebook, Google, and many other online ad businesses are tracking pretty much everything you do online, through your web browser and apps, to figure out how to more precisely target ads and commerce at you.

Firefox and Safari web browsers are now adding updated privacy protections to thwart web tracking.

Google's Chrome browser commands about half of the global user base, but because Google's business is based on ad revenue, these privacy protections are not in their bottom line interest.

The idea behind the updated privacy features is to prevent companies from being able to exploit "cookie" data files (for your login and user preferences) into trackers that go way beyond that, and spy on what blog posts you read, what porno you're watching, what creepy stuff you're looking up on Google late at night.

Apple's new approach to blocking web trackers is significant because it focuses on "a technique developed by tracking companies to override users' attempts to delete their cookies," reports the Associated Press.


Unlike Firefox, Safari makes these protections automatic in updates coming Tuesday to iPhones and iPads and a week later to Mac computers.

To get the protections, you'll have to break your habit of using Google's Chrome browser, which by some estimates has more than half of the worldwide browser usage. Safari and Firefox have less than 20 percent combined.

Even then, Safari and Firefox can't entirely stop tracking. For starters, they won't block tracking when you're using Facebook or Google itself. Nor can they help much when you use phone or tablet apps, unless the app happens to embed Safari, as Twitter's iPhone app does.

(…) Safari will try to automatically distinguish cookies that are useful from ones that are there just to track you. Apple notes that cookies can appear in unexpected places, such as sites that embed "like" and "share" buttons. Now, those cookies will be blocked until you click on one of those buttons, in which case you'll be prompted for permission to allow the tracking. If you don't, your "like" won't register.

Safari is also attacking a technique developed to circumvent cookie deletions. Through "fingerprinting," a company can identify you through your computer's characteristics, such as browser type and fonts installed. Your new cookie can then be tied to your old profile. Safari will now limit the technical details it sends.

Firefox has an anti-tracking feature that also tries to distinguish tracking cookies from useful ones. But it's on by default only on Apple's mobile devices. Otherwise, you need to turn it on or use a private-browsing mode, which gets more aggressive at killing cookies, including useful ones.

For personal computers, Firefox also has an optional add-on, called Facebook Container, to segregate your Facebook activity from everything else. Think of it as a wall that prevents Facebook from accessing its data cookie as you surf elsewhere. A version is available for other trackers, too, but requires configuration on your part.

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