As I look over my colleagues shoulders writing down notes on their laptops and checking Facebook every 30 seconds it gives me goose bumps: Not because I’m sick of people distracting me from listening to lectures through their intrusive computer usage, it’s because of their browser set-up: Ask.com toolbars, ad-blockers that were en vogue decades ago, useless plug-ins of their anti-virus software that display annoying pop-ups every damn time they visit Google.
So what browser add-ons are actually worth your time?
You can install all sorts of bells and whistles, from crappy video downloaders to flash-blockers that are already built into your browser. But there are 3 well-regarded add-ons that add long-needed functionality in times when a horde of companies and criminals want to use the meta-data you’re generating while browsing for all sorts of creepy things. So here you go, hit install:
uBlock Origin (Chrome/Firefox/Opera) / uBlock (Safari)
AdBlock Plus isn’t state of the art anymore, as the team behind the software introduced a list of proclaimed non-intrusive ads that are displayed as long as you don’t turn of this „feature“. Also browsing speed is significantly slowed down. Fortunately a staff of independent developers gave us a free and open-source option that features a much better performance and can do all sort of things: Block ads, block anti-ad-blocking ads, prevent you from visiting malware domains, prevent tracking of your browsing habits, block tracking by social networks and more things I don’t understand myself.
Just install the add-on and leave it at default settings. Of course you can check the blocking-lists the software is subscribed to and enable additional rule-sets (e.g. anti-anti-ad-block now needed for many media streaming sites).
Privacy Badger (Chrome/Firefox/Opera)
This add-on is developed by the non-profit EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) which is involved in campaigning in favor of user rights on the internet, free speech and fight for net neutrality. Privacy Badger is extremely simple to use and can be left at default settings most of the time: It blocks tracking of your browsing habits through cookies and transmission of data to external services. All this happens in the background and even gets smarter as you browse. If something goes terribly wrong and a site’s functionality is broken you always have the option do unblock needed requests. There are a lot of similar add-ons like Privacy Badger, but the most prominent ones like Ghostery or Disconnect are connected to premium services charging you for full functionality, displaying ads themselves or selling user data.
HTTPS Everywhere (Chrome/Firefox/Opera)
In contrast to HTTP-requests your connection to servers through HTTPS is encrypted, so all information you leave behind and enter is encrypted as well. This makes for a much securer browsing experience. And it’s dead-simple to use: Just install and HTTPS-Everywhere will establish a secure connection whenever it’s possible. When you click on its icon you can manually select which connection should be established through HTTPS and which through insecure HTTPS. The add-on is developed by EFF as well.