Data Detox Week 3: Clean Browsing

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In May, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will host The Glass Room, an interactive exhibit examining the ramifications of always-on, always-connected technology on personal privacy. As a lead up to this process, the Library is offering an abridged version of Data Detox, an 8-week series devoted to regaining control over your digital footprint. This is the third post in that series.

The Glass Room and Data Detox were developed by Mozilla and Tactical Technology.

logo for The Glass Room Digital Privacy project. A stylized box sits next to the text THE GLASS ROOM against a white background.

Week 3: Clean Browsing

Your web browser is your window to the Internet. No matter what browser you use, you are exposing some amount of personal data to the sites you interact with. Over time, as you use more

This has been the source of recent legislation in the European Union. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, introduced new standards for data privacy online that hadn’t been previously codified. Among these is a requirement that a site indicate that it uses tracking cookies (you may have noticed more of these privacy-based pop-ups over the past few months), as well as the ability for an individual to request that their data be deleted – known as the “Right to be Forgotten.”

Currently this legislation is only valid in the European Union. While the US doesn’t have similar protections, we can exert some level of individual control over how our personal information is tracked through our web browser.

Seeing what a tracker sees

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a nonprofit that explores and advocates for civil liberties in digital space. They produce a number of tools designed to help you better understand your digital footprint and protect your personal data.

Panopticlick is one such tool, which checks your browser for some of the more common types of data tracking.

Protection Tools

Private Browsing: If you don’t want to make major changes to your browser, you can turn on a private browsing session. These browser windows will delete any browser, tracking, or search history files as soon as the window is closed. This can be useful in more data-sensitive situations, such as when visiting a banking website.

The method to activate Private Browsing depends on the browser you are using.

  • Chrome: Click on the ⋮ symbol in your browser and select “New Incognito Window.” You can also hit Ctrl+Shift+N.
  • Firefox: Click on the ☰ menu in your browser and select “New Private Window.” You can also hit Ctrl+Shift+P.
    (To turn this on permanently, go to Preferences –> Privacy –> select Use Custom Settings for Privacy –> check Always use private browsing mode.)
  • Safari: In the File menu, select “New Private Window.” You can also hit Shift+⌘+N.
    (To turn this on permanently, go to Preferences –> General –> Safari opens with: –> select A new private window.)
  • Edge: Click on the … menu in your browser and select “New InPrivate Window.”

Browser Tools: If you’d like to keep your day-to-day browsing locked down, you can install specialized software. The following privacy-aiding browser extensions are available for both Firefox and Chrome.

  • Privacy Badger: Created by the EFF, Privacy Badger helps you block (and customize) which trackers follow your web browsing.
  • Click n’ Clean allows you to clean your browser history and cookies with a single click.
  • HTTPS Everywhere checks the sites you visit to see if they offer a secure (HTTPS) connection. If one is available, it will automatically connect you with the secure site.