Online Privacy tips from our Mad readers

Security online is a somewhat tenuous and ever-shifting problem that may be difficult to
manage or navigate. However, there are tools that can help. Since there are no perfect tools
that keep you safe, nothing can substitute good, common-sense approaches. For instance,
don’t open attachments or links from emails or texts you don’t 100% know are legitimate
(unless you are using an esoteric operating system that you know for certain nothing will run
on, then… maybe). 90%+ of all online attacks are done through Social Engineering — which
is playing on the weakest point in security — the end-user. That said, there are tools that help.

For instance, the web browser can be helpful. The vast majority of people online use Google
Chrome, which pretty much won the Browser Wars as a late-comer to that particular battle.
However, as the events and actions of Big Tech have shown since 2020, Google cannot be
trusted. Nevertheless, there are other options. For the record, Microsoft’s Edge browser has
since switched to being Google Chrome-based, and if one Big Tech company cannot be trusted,
I guarantee two of them with their fingers in your browser is an even worse idea.

There are still other portals. Mozilla is a nice browser, but lest we forget, Mozilla fired their CEO years ago
over his personal monetary donation to the California Proposition 8, which was a defence of
the natural marriage bill – he was cancelled. More about him later. Opera may seem “safe”,
except back in 2016 it was acquired by a Chinese company, which means it is owned by the
CCP. What about others? Well, for those who want to get the benefits of a standardized
browser, without Big Tech fingers in it, there is “Ungoogled Chromium”, which is Google
Chrome minus Google. The developer of that project painstakingly removed all the features
and components, or at least disabled those, that were tied to Google. It can still use Google
Chrome extensions, but more about those later.

And then there is another browser known as Brave. You know that former CEO of Mozilla
who was fired for giving his own personal money to protect natural marriage? Yeah, he
started a company that took Google Chromium (the open source project Google Chrome is
based on) and did things like built-in ad, malware, and tracker protection, forcing links to be
HTTPS instead of HTTP whenever possible, etc. It’s nice… but imperfect protection, and I
wouldn’t just rely on the protection Brave gives by default, because they do allow certain
things to come through. However, having its own Cryptocurrency that you can actually earn
just by using your browser is an interesting feature (if you want to know more, I can explain

Brave is a nice tool and one of the few browsers available for phones/tablets that has
any kind of ad/malware/tracker protection built in to it. So, I would recommend either
“completely ditch Google from the system entirely and have a clean slate” with Ungoogled
Chromium, or “use the browser that is primarily designed by the guy fired for protecting
marriage in CA” with Brave. Both are based on Google Chromium and can use the same
extensions, which I will cover next.  (Brave browser here, Ungoogled Chromium info here)

Browser extensions are useful tools for a web browser, which can do a myriad of different
things. In this case, I will focus on ones that help improve your security.  * ClearURLs is a
good extension that will automatically strip any URL you use of any known tracking

Disconnect helps make the web faster, more private, and more secure by blocking the
invisible websites that are used to track you. Many sites can go (according to them) up to
44% faster because of this.

LocalCDN protects you against tracking through CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) by
redirecting you to local resources/copies.

Privacy Badger automatically learns to block invisible trackers and replaces potentially
useful trackers (video players, comment widgets, etc.) with click-to-activate placeholders. It
also removes outgoing link click tracking on Facebook and Google.

uBlock Origin is a wide-spectrum content
blocker with CPU and memory efficiency as a primary feature. It can use filtering lists that
are widely available to proficiently block through them.

HTTPS Everywhere Brave pretty much already does everything this does. It encrypts the web by automatically using HTTPS security wherever possible.

When I was growing up, my dad had tried to block me from using his computer. This was a
somewhat fruitless exercise… or maybe he intentionally was setting up a challenge for me, I
dunno. I just know that anything he tried to do to prevent me from getting into his computer
ended up being broken, usually within an hour or two. I was persistent. The problem was
everything he did was actually existing in his computer, so I could figure out some way to get
around it or through it. I usually could guess his passwords pretty quickly, he tried a physical
lock that disabled the keyboard and mouse, and I learned how to pick the lock. It goes on.

After a while, he gave up stopping me, realizing that I was getting through it while also
learning a lot and doing a good job of keeping his computer running optimally. He just
eventually sat down and watched to try and learn from me. This led to him being considered
the “computer guru” at his job. As a father myself, I am stuck with a conundrum — I want to
protect my children, but I also know that my children are related to me, which means I have
to think of how to protect them so that they won’t be able to disable out of hand.

Browser extensions are something they could potentially disable, because they are installed on the
computer directly and can be disabled or uninstalled (my kids are 9 and 12, but I was hacking
into my dad’s computer at age 8, so I need something that works against me). My solution is
that I have no cell network devices that my kids can use with screens. Everything must go
through my wifi. And I have my wifi running through my own personal router, which I have
installed OpenWRT onto. From that, I also installed AdGuard Home on the router, and use
that as a content blocker, with all network DNS traffic being redirected through it. From
there, I can create protection from known porn sites, malware sites, etc, and make them
simply not able to be loaded.

This is a more complex setup for people, and I can go into it as desired. It isn’t perfect,
because some things still aren’t filtered, but it covers probably 85% of the inappropriate sites,
and I am continuing to find better filtering lists to do an improved job to block what I don’t
want my kids to see. AdGuard Home also lets me disable services, and I disabled all of the
ones I was not comfortable having be available on my home network, like Tiktok, for
example. It let me set my upstream DNS, and I chose one that had additional “family-safe”
filters on it. In addition, I am using DNS over TLS, which means my ISP can’t see any of the
DNS traffic as it is all encrypted, avoiding that kind of tracking. I also am forcing safe search
with AdGuard Home, which prevents my children from seeing pornography in most search
engines, and blocks a number of YouTube videos as it turns on restricted mode for YouTube.
So really, I have 3 levels of filtering on all DNS requests — uBlock Origin at the browser
level, AdGuard Home at my LAN level, and the family-safe upstream servers (like

I added several ad-blocking lists to AdGuard Home, and it has some interesting side-effects. For instance, videos from companies that put lots of ads in their content can’t play the ads and, as such, just skip over the ads and go back to the show being watched. For the more technical-minded, there are some useful security-minded operating systems, like Whonix and Qubes, which I could cover if desired later.
For those who have Android devices, I would recommend trying to get F-Droid on your
device (which handles installing apps on your Android device apart from Google Play), and
using that. It doesn’t let Google track the apps you install when installed through F-Droid.
There are a number of apps on it that you can’t find on Google Play anyway. One of the most
impressive I have used is called “NewPipe SponsorBlock”, which lets you watch YouTube
anonymously. Beyond that, it automatically cuts out YouTube ads, and the SponsorBlock
fork specifically attempts (with moderate success) to also remove the sponsored ads that the
YouTube creators themselves do. Plus, you can speed up the YouTube playback and
download video or audio, etc. This is exclusively how I use YouTube anymore. Another good
app on F-Droid is AntennaPod, which is a handy, tracker-free Podcast app with a good
assortment of features. I listen to all my podcasts through it.

This is just a place to start. If you need more guidance, the Mad Discord server is a great place to ask questions. Request an invitation as


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