Why It Matters

In today’s digital world of pervasive tracking and dark alley user data sales, a little online self-defense is probably warranted regardless of the ridiculous claims made by some that ad blocking software usage is akin to theft or “we have nothing to hide” mentalities.

As long as Publishers fail to stand up to Advertisers and continue to allow them to serve overlay / hover ads, auto-play videos, malverts and pervasive tracking techniques – stuff that damages good UX – ad blocking and privacy conscious product usage will grow.

While today’s publisher and advertiser is sticking his/her head in the sand, falsely believing that users are at fault for hits to their bottom line and ad revenue declining business model, the reality is that users are going to search for, find and use products that offer privacy protection and non-irritating user experiences.

Tool list of privacy apps, plugins and products I use and recommend:

(along with just a few brief words about why I personally like them)

  • F-Secure Freedome VPN (@FreedomeVPN) – Easy set-up of VPN on iOS and OS X. Includes tracking, browsing and connection protection. Responsive support team. Counts the number of tracking attempts it has blocked, which can be enlightening. Supports other platforms.
  • DuckDuckGo Search Engine (@DuckDuckGo) – Clean design interface. Respected by power-users and privacy folks. Learn the !bang syntax to unlock DDG’s real power. Completely replaced Google search for me, but yes, sometimes I want to see a Google result. So, I just append !sp to my search query to deny Google my data and still pull up Google results via the Startpage search engine. DuckDuckGo is the geek and privacy choice for today.
  • uBlock Origin (uBlock) – Browser ad blocking and anti-tracking plugin that is nimbler than Adblock Plus. Has Firefox and Chrome browser extensions.
  • Ghostery (Ghostery) – Browser anti-tracking plugin and iOS mobile app that displays what trackers are used on a website and blocks them. Lots of options, but I recommend not enabling the Ghostrank feature (disabled by default). There is some controversy over this feature and how it supports the Ad industry. I’m adding this product because it has worked well for me and on iOS (even with UX issues) is a faster browsing experience than Safari. Although Adblock Plus has an iOS app too, I prefer to stick with Ghostery (which also uses DuckDuckGo by default for searches).
  • Wickr (@myWickr) – Secure encrypted ephemeral messaging app built by security folks who care about details. Securely deletes messages rather than hides them like Snapchat. Set a timer for self-destructing messages from 3 seconds to 6 days. Attach a photo, audio recording or file from Dropbox or Google Drive. Supports stickers. Nico Sell is associated with this app and she is very user-privacy-centric. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s former Communications Minister (and now PM), uses Wickr along with journalists and activists. This is an app I highly recommend because it is the exact opposite of Snapchat – it has always put user interests, privacy and security first.
  • Signal (Signal) – A highly recommended secure messaging app by the security community. It recently added an ephemeral feature for allowing messages to disappear (a bit like Wickr). It also offers safety numbers for side-channel identity verification (a way to make sure you’re messaging the right person without MITM attacks). This is a great app for sharing passwords rather than using un-secure email (okay, there’s PGP/GPG and Protonmail for emails).
  • Protonmail (Protonmail) – Provides encrypted email without having to hand-roll your own or learn PGP/GPG. Also, it’s based in Switzerland.
  • 1Blocker (1Blocker) – An iOS Safari extension that makes mobile Safari zippier (since it removes so much crud related to ads). Highly recommend this for iOS users.

I believe that privacy should matter and influence the products we choose. The businesses who care about privacy and tracking, who go out of their way to deliver tools that provide these things, and who treat their users with respect instead of viewing them as products deserve to be supported. Maybe something won’t always work the way that other ad-follows-you-are-the-product piece of software does, but if we support the products who really respect us, then others will get the message.

Yes, It Matters

Why Are Web Pages So Slow? | Take it or leave it

Americans’ Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance | Pew Research Center

I’ll try to keep this list of tools updated as I continue to use them or discover others that work for me.

[Updated 05/20/15]

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