What if you were driving down the highway in your car and had to slow down every mile to read an advertisement? And what if those advertisers knew where you had been and who had gone with you? That would annoy and cause concern for many people but we tolerate this on our computers and mobile devices all the time. Our web browsing behaviors (sites we visit, what we search for on those sites, what we do on those sites) are being used against us every day. But this does not have to happen and I’m going to show you how to stop it.
There is a free extension that you can add to your favorite browser of choice to stop advertisers and others from tracking your browsing behaviors: Ghostery (https://www.ghostery.com/).
Extensions and add-ons are pieces of software that someone else has written. They, themselves, have the ability to track and alter the information you send and receive from web pages. I tell you this so that you don’t go wild and start installing untrusted add-ons in your browsers. There are malicious extensions out there. These two extensions, right now, as of the moment of this writing, are solid, pieces of software that you can trust.
Extensions in Google Chrome
Here is how you get to the “Extensions” area of the Google Chrome web browser. Press the settings button (pancake-like three lines in the upper right) of the Google Chrome browser.
From there, choose More tools and then Extensions.
Observant readers will note that the URL chrome://extensions/ will get you to this same place.
Now, you may not have any extensions loaded in your browser. If that is the case, your next screen should appear similar to the one below. You will want to press on the browse the Chrome Web Store link to go to the place where we will find the extensions.
If you do have one or more extensions loaded, then you will need to scroll to the bottom of your browser window where you should see a link such as the one below to Get more extensions. That link should take you to https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/extensions?hl=en-US (or the correct one for your area of the world).
Just hang on while I get the Firefox users to the right place.
Firefox users should also click on the pancake-like settings menu in the upper right of their browser and then select Add-ons.
Again, you may or may not already have some add-ons installed in your browser. In either case, select the Get Add-ons option on the left side of your new window. Observant Firefox readers will note that the page that you are on is about:addons which is a fast method of getting to this page.
Safari can load Ghostery too! So, launch the Safari web browser and go to the upper left menu item named Safari. Click it and you will see Safari Extensions… which you should click.
Why, Micah? Why?
Why am I showing you how to navigate to these areas of the applications you probably use every day? Sure I could just say “Click here and install the extensions” (which I will below). Just as it is important for you to understand how your car works, it is also important for you to understand how to modify your web browser settings.
How To Add an Extension/Add-on
If you have followed me to this point, adding the correct extension is simple. Firefox, Chrome and Safari all have search areas within their extension/add-on areas. Type in Ghostery and press the search button (or hit Enter).
For Ghostery, you can also just visit https://www.ghostery.com/try-us/download-browser-extension/ in your browser and press the appropriate button for your web browser. The links will take you to the correct add-on web page.
You are looking for a little, blue PacMan ghost like the one below.
You will want to add this to your browser or install it (each browser has a different name for it). Once installed, it may take you to a tutorial to help you understand the options. Go through it and set it up how you like. You will also notice a little ghost in the browser now (usually up top). This is the way you can quickly get back to Ghostery to change options.
The important piece for Ghostery is on the Blocking page. You will want to ensure you SELECT ALL to shut off all ads and trackers. See below for how it should work.
I will warn you. This will block things that may cause web sites to not work. That is OK because you can always unblock certain sites or choose specific parts of a site to be unblocked.
Oh No! My Site Doesn’t Work!
Ghostery sometimes will cause web sites to not work properly since it prevents your browser from loading all of the widgets and trackers the web site wants you to. In these cases, you have a couple of options: Pause Blocking and Whitelist Site.
If you just want to stop Ghostery from blocking anything for all the web sites you are visiting, choose the Pause Blocking option and reload the page. You will need to Resume Blocking to take advantage of Ghostery’s features again.
There are some web sites that you may trust and it may be fine for them to track you or provide you ads. In those cases choose the Whitelist Site option to essentially turn off Ghostery for just this site. Next time you visit this whitelisted site, Ghostery will not block content.
A Third Choice
There is a third choice in what to do when Ghostery is blocking a feature of a web site. That is to selectively turn on, one by one, the features that Ghostery is blocking. Turn one back on and reload the page. Did that fix the issue? No? Do it with another one and reload the page.
A Final Choice
The way that I browse the internet may be similarly to the method you use. I have my favorite browser and, whenever I need to go to the internet, I launch it and go. This browser definitely has Ghostery installed. If all of the above 3 methods for getting a site to work fail, I open a “less secure” browser that does not have Ghostery installed (for example, Internet Explorer) and visit the site there. This can help you. Protect your main browser and have a fall-back one that is less secure to use when sites look weird in your main browser.
Did you know that you can install Firefox onto many mobile phones and tablets? Google Chrome too. When you install it, make sure that you install the Ghostery extension to protect your mobile web traffic.