Privacy and Alternative Platforms – 1: Your Web Browser.

January 11, 2021 at 5:04 pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from JM Atoms. He’ll be bringing additional posts to this series over the coming weeks. While his views are generally inline with my own, his posts appearing on this site should not be considered endorsement of opinions expressed herein.

If you’re here, there are two things I assume you’re interested in: privacy and censorship.  The first thing we’ll dive into is privacy.  Privacy should be addressed first as it’s the foundation for virtually everything else to follow.  I assume you’re already familiar with the “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about” vs “I may or may not, but it’s none of your business regardless” arguments.  Perhaps I’ll write up something more in-depth later.

The biggest leak to our privacy is the phone we carry in our pocket.  It listens to you. It listens to the people around you.  It knows where you’re going based on text messages and emails you write.  It tracks and keeps a history of where you’ve been.  Using the unique ID of your Bluetooth antenna it can keep track of all other people you come in proximity with. Your Bluetooth antenna can also be used to track your precise whereabouts in a building while your WIFI and cellular antennas can reveal your location across the rest of the world.  There have even been reports that compromised phones have been found to still have components active while mimicking a powered off state.  That’s not an all-inclusive list, there are other ways.  In the words of Frank the Tank, there are probably other ways that are “really cool I don’t even know about”.

The first step to turning off the faucet of privacy leakage is your web browser.  Chances are you’re still using the web browser that came with your phone, or you used Internet Explorer/Edge to immediately download Chrome.  According to recent numbers Chrome itself is responsible for displaying 2/3 of all page views across the globe.  Is anyone old enough to remember when Internet Explorer dominated the market that much?  Do you also remember the lawsuit filed against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows?  Those times have changed.

Uninstall Chrome immediately from your phone (if you can) and computer; instead download the Brave browser. There are three reasons to use Brave. The main reason to use Brave is based on privacy.  To some credit (not much) Chrome does block some cross-site trackers and cookies while browsing.  Chrome will never block them all, and especially not the ones detrimental to Google’s business model.  

Brave blocks ads by default.  This may not always be a good thing.  Some websites and content creators depend on the revenue from ads to maintain their site and livelihood.  However, you can choose to turn off the ad-block functionality on a per-site basis using the Brave lion icon next to the address bar.  That icon will also let you know how many of each type of tracking mechanism it’s blocked, letting you know which sites are at least attempting to track you the most.  All of these things are done by default, right out of the box after install.  No need for additional configuration.

The second reason to use Brave is because while maintaining your privacy is important, what good is it if the browser doesn’t work?  I suppose you could argue that you don’t need privacy if your browser wont even load a site.  TapsForeHeadMeme.gif.  Brave is built off Chromium, which indeed shares the same foundation as Google’s Chrome browser.  The browsers are very similar in many ways.  Brave even touts that it’s up to three times faster than Chrome.  If you’re familiar with Chrome you’ll be right at home with Brave.  All extensions and add-ons will likely work with Brave if they work with Chrome.

Don’t let the part about Brave using Chrome’s backend worry you.  The Chromium project/toolkit is one of the better things that Google has done.  Its code is open source which means anyone can review it to see what’s in it and what it’s doing.  The difference is that browsers can be created using this project, but additional things can be added to them.  Google Chrome was based on Chromium, with extra things added, which makes the browser itself not open source.  You cannot review most of Google Chrome’s code.  You can review and inspect all code with Brave. As a matter of fact, if you’re so inclined and possess the know-how you can view it here

The last reason to use Brave is the ability to make or spread around a little bit of money.  It may be a little contradictory, but Brave can serve you ads which in turn at the end of each month results in the accumulation of the cryptocurrency Basic Attention Token (BAT).  It by no means is anywhere near enough money to quit your day job.  However, the accumulated BAT can be “tipped” to other people including websites and content creators whose ads you’ve been blocking should their site be configured to accept it. The ads that it shows you are not intrusive.  On mobile they appear as notifications that you click, and a website opens.  On Windows desktop, they appear as a system notification, like the one that appears when you connect to WiFi, which then opens a webpage.  BAT is an excellent way to introduce people to cryptocurrency.  These notifications and BAT accumulation can be turned off at any time.

On a side note, writing the last section sent me down memory lane.  Back in the late Windows 95/98 days there were some companies that offered to install a bar at the bottom of your screen that you’d leave running to display ads.  You’d make money just having the bar loaded.  We invited that garbage into our lives so early.  In two years, it raised nearly $200 million and had 10 million users.  That’s frighteningly impressive for a marketing company in 1999.  Anyhow…

This series will eventually get discuss alternate social media and communication platforms that are not Twitter/Facebook.  These platforms will struggle to compete against the social media that is already well established and could use the extra support that BAT tipping provides.  To you the BAT you collect will likely be minuscule.  Collectively, thousands of people can make a difference and could very well ‘make or break’ it for a lot of these competitors.

Lastly, many will want to recommend FireFox, and to me it is a very valid backup to Brave, should it not display a webpage properly.  It is very privacy focused as well.  However, the interface isn’t as similar to Chrome that you’re familiar with.  It tends to be slower than Chromium based web browsers.  And lastly there is no accumulating BAT with it.  Though as mentioned, a very viable backup to Brave.  I recommend installing both.

The next installment in this series will cover communication starting with email and then messengers.  Once your browser is no longer spying on you directly, it’s time to get your data, and all future data off not only Google’s servers, but virtually all other platforms as well. 

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