How I protect myself online
I share my methods of blocking and misguiding ads/tracking/social media corporations.
I never liked ads, since I was a kid. I was muting TV when an ad came up. I stopped watching TV entirely when I saw 9/11 on TV happening live. I was ~13, and decided that TV is too negative and passive to watch it.
If you are young, then you probably think this is a default behaviour - not watching TV and doing everything online. It wasn’t that way 21 years ago.
Why go through the trouble?
There are couple reasons why I spend a lot of time blocking most of the internet from my vision/brain.
- My mental health
- Speed of loading websites
- Hate for ads, tracking, scams, spying
- Dislike of waste of any kind
Protecting myself with software
I know that what I do is not enough, I have read HackerNews and articles on how to stay anonymous. But at the same time I don’t have enough time to maintain 100% of my privacy. Additionally, I’m not Edward Snowden or Julian Assange - I’m not doing it to avoid prison, so my motivation is much less.
Apart from annoying ads, constant spying I consider clickbaits and most social media (or how we use it) a cancer of the internet. It seems like every week there is a new study proving social media content is harmful, depressin for young people, interfering in democratic processes and making world a worse place. I don’t want to be exposed to it without my consent and control. So I’m using very little, and when I’m consumer, I try to moderate it to be educational/entertainment. I fail at it often, because it’s so easy to fail.
What I’m doing I consider good compromise between keeping some privacy and keeping maintenance to a minimum. I recently bought new laptop and had to do it all manually, so here it is, for my own reference and for your enjoyment, a summary of my steps.
I use Brave browser with some extensions
I used Firefox for a long time, but recently I got tired of mediocre devtools and problems with various video sites.
I recommend it to everyone. If there is only one thing from that list you could do, do that one.
- Enable all built-in lists, apart from the country specific ones
- Add some custom lists that I found on the internet (probably overkill)
https://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.txt Fuck Fuckadblock Nano Defender Integration Nano Filters uBlock-Origin-dev-filter – Google+DuckDuckGo
Decentraleyes gives little bit more protection and performance by loading popular scripts from localhost instead of public CDNs.
I have Reader mode extension. I highly recommend taking over control of typography you consume
I personally use Startpage.com. I consider using privacy oriented search engine as a must. There is no reason to get exposed to bigcorps more than necessary. You can also try duckduckgo.com, but it’s using Bing for results, so, yeah.
Steven Black /etc/hosts
I use Steven Black. I don’t remember which list I’m choosing, but I copy paste one that I like into
/etc/hosts and done. One day I will also put it into my router (or use my RaspberryPi as PiHole). The earlier you block harmful content, the better.
DNS provider - Nextdns.io
Nextdns.io. This is a VPN/DNS provider with some nice little options. Apart from blocking some requests, it gives you some nice statistics, logs, parental controls, allowlist/blocklist. Additionally I hardcode DNS IPs in my machines, so it cannot be overridden by a router. In order: Nextdns, Cloudflare privacy IPv4, CF privacy IPv6.
I spend a lot of time on Youtube, so naturally I spent a lot of time optimizing it’s experience.
- Clickbait Remover for Youtube - I just hate clickbaits. Such a waste of time.
- Youtube channel blocker - Pretty self explanatory. There is so much clickbaity mainstream trash on YT I don’t even want to see that it exists. Not to mention recommended section is useless. I use it extensively.
- BlockTube - I use it mainly to block the new “#shorts” videos, but it has some other neat features. I treat it like tiktok - trash to make you addicted.
- SponsorBlock for Youtube - This one is a little bit controversial, I admit. But at this point I’m too tired listening about squarespace, raid shadow legends and VPNs.
- I try to avoid everything that algorithm throws at me
- I block channels that clickbait - if they are good, i check on them every month or so (looking at you Linus Tech Tips)
- I subscribe to channels that deserve it and don’t flood my YT notifications too much
- I don’t comment on 99% of videos I watch, and when I comment I try to be as supportive/constructive to the creator as possible. I often give thumbs up on videos :)
Apart from having technical solutions I try to be reasonable with how I use technology.
- TikTok - Don’t use it - everything from that app I saw was terrible
- Reddit - Use it sporadically, it’s addicting and a time sink
- Facebook - Don’t use it
- Facebook messenger - I use messenger.com to communicate with 2 people
- HackerNews - Love it. It is the best source of different perspectives provided by smart people I have found online
Because of US culture wars that is spilling everywhere I block very liberally.
- I have over 50 words blocked on the “Mute and block” list to filter out the obvious offenders.
- I only follow technical people (95%) and satirical content (5%)
- If technical people are steering into virtue signalling or politics, I unfollow
- If they like too much of weird stuff, I unfollow
- On phone I use “Twitter Lite”
- I treat it as my photo journal. My journey to become better at taking photos
- I don’t have phone app (I once had it and 25% of the content was trash and/or ads)
- I follow only photographers that I like
- I don’t use tags on my photos, I don’t comment on anything
- I never post pictures of myself (I assume the worst from facebook, so I assume they scrape it to the bottom and sell deanonimized)
- I do not install apps if i can help it
- I use Firefox Mobile with uBlock origin, nextdns.io installed and active all the time
- I block all permissions that I can while keeping app operational (there is a software security rule about that)
- I remove apps that I know I will need sporadically (ie. booking.com, airbnb)
- I don’t pickup from blocked numbers
- When I pickup from unknown number, often times I won’t confirm or deny who picked up - just for fun :)
- I use Should I Answer? to prevent unsolicited calls
- I used to record all calls automatically, but now I don’t. I will come back to it, as sometimes I just need to rewind to hear it again (ie. address, hour of the appointment)
- On my computers I have all notifications turned off
- On my smartphone I have all sound/vibration notifications off
- When I take my phone into my hand I don’t see any notifications on lock screen. I need to unlock and use the drop down the tray to see anything that tries to grab my attention.
Spark - I use Spark email app on my mac, and some generic one on my android phone (Spark was extremely slow). I think it works better overall than having constantly opened email tab, or loading the slow SPA
X times a day.
On my phone I use built-in Gmail app until I switch to a more reasonable email provider, which is hard after using it since it was invite-only.
All this aggressive blocking had one interesting situation in my work: When my company tried to implement tracking framework for facebook, google and other privacy thief I couldn’t do it. I’ve spent a week trying to unblock facebook pixels and they were still 404ing. After a month nobody remembered it was needed. Which is also a good test if a feature is really needed, or just someone threw it out there and it sticked. Apparently it was not that crucial.
I consider it a win-win-win-win-win situation.
- I couldn’t do something that is clearly against my world-view/philosophy
- Our company still had a clean conscious in this tracking infested world
- Visitors are tracked a little bit less
- Website is MUCH faster because of lack of those heavy scripts
- Business people don’t have to look at another 10 metrics, they only focus on those 300 they usually do
I met a friend in his house and we sat down next to each other. He opened a website and it was looking… bad. And it loaded like he had 56k modem, not 300Mbps connection.
I opened my laptop (with all the bells and whistles described above) next to his and opened the same page. It worked 10x faster and was straight to the point (content), without distracting fullscreen ad in the background. We had the same machines at the time (base 13” MBP 2015).
No matter the ads/tracking, the performance difference was striking. He could not believe it. I showed him how much of this page was actual page and how much was blocked by uBlock (i think it was around 60%). Long story short, he was converted very quickly and lives happily ever since.
Sad, but true conclusion
I’m a pirate and parasite on the ecosystem of free content. This area of life is one of the very few where I became 100% selfish. I refuse to take part in this kind of business model if I can help it. Fortunately, more and more websites are implementing paywalls, so I can’t exploit them, so I just leave them immediately.
I understand that sometimes it is shooting fly with a cannon and there is a massive amount of collateral damage to creators (especially with SponsorBlock and uBlock origin), but for me it is a matter of survival. I just cannot stay healthy mentally while being exposed to all that crap, tricks, ads, scams, dark patterns.
It is not my role to invent fair ways to monetize content. My role is to keep myself and people around me safe.