With so many advertisers, social networks, and other companies interested in your data, it's pretty hard to stay private online these days. But don't reach for that tinfoil hat just yet! There are a few tools that can help privacy-conscious users shake privacy-smashing trackers off their tails.
Here's a look at three extensions that keep your connections to websites encrypted whenever possible, block companies trying to track you, and erase any browsing data cached in your browser.
HTTPS Everywhere (Chrome, Firefox, Opera)
Many popular sites and services--including Facebook, Google, and Twitter--automatically encrypt browsing sessions using HTTPS, a.k.a. the security lock icon next to the website URL. But most sites that support HTTPS don't use it by default.
That's where HTTPS Everywhere comes in. Created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital advocacy group, HTTPS Everywhere forces your browser to use HTTPS encryption if the website makes it available. You don't have to actively do anything; just install the extension and let HTTPS Everywhere work its magic.
Abine Do Not Track Me (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari)
First introduced in 2011, Abine's Do Not Track Me protects your web browsing from third-party tracking via cookies and other methods. These tracking companies can include ad networks, social networks such as Facebook, and other data collection outfits. Abine says DoNotTrack Me has blocked over 1 trillion attempts to track users since its introduction. That's either a nod to the popularity of DNTM... or to the high number of companies trying to track you online on any given day.
Using DNTM is easy. Just install it in your browser, and the extension keeps a running total in your Web browser of the number of cookies blocked on each site.
If you create an account with Abine and are willing to pay $5 per month, you can also use the extension to protect your email address, phone number, and credit card number when filling out web forms.
The downside of Abine's extension is that you ultimately have to put your trust in a private company. For those of you not willing to trust a for-profit business, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is working on a similar extension called Privacy Badger. The EFF extension is currently in alpha form and not ready for mass consumption, but you can still try it out if you don't mind having to deal with occasional bugs and functionality problems.
Click&Clean (Chrome and Firefox)
This useful browser extension takes your privacy to a whole other level by offering one-click erase for your browser cache, download and browsing history, temporary Internet files, cookies, and flash cookies.
But Click&Clean is not a set it and forget it type of extension. Mixiesoft, the company behind Click&Clean, recommends reading its quick start guide before use. You may also have to do a little configuration in the settings so that the extension erases everything you want.
Nevertheless, once you're up and running, Click&Clean is very easy to use.
These three tools are just the tip of the privacy add-on iceberg, but they're a good foundation for closing the prying eyes of invasive trackers. If you want even more control over your online experience, be sure to check out PCWorld's guide to 16 powerful browser extensions that bend the web to your will.