These 6 browser extensions will protect your privacy online

The internet is not a private place. Ads try to learn as much about you to sell your information to the highest bidder. Emails know when you open them and which links you click. And some of the biggest internet snoops, like Facebook and Amazon, follow you from site to site as you browse the web.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. We’ve tried and tested six browser extensions that will immediately improve your privacy online by blocking most of the invisible ads and trackers.

These extensions won’t block every kind of snooping, but they will vastly reduce your exposure to most of the efforts to track your internet activity. You might not care that advertisers collect your data to learn your tastes and interests to serve you targeted ads. But you might care that these ad giants can see which medical conditions you’re looking up and what private purchases you’re making.

By blocking these hidden trackers from loading, websites can’t collect as much information about you. Plus by dropping the unnecessary bulk, some websites will load faster. The tradeoff is that some websites might not load properly or refuse to let you in if you don’t let them track you. You can toggle the extensions on and off as needed, or you could ask yourself if the website was that good to begin with and could you not just find what you were looking for somewhere else?

HTTPS Everywhere

We’re pretty much hardwired to look for that little green lock in our browser to tell us a website was loaded over an HTTPS-encrypted connection. That means the websites you open haven’t been hijacked or modified by an attacker before it loaded and that anything you submit to that website can’t be seen by anyone other than the website. HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension made by the non-profit internet group the Electronic Frontier Foundation that automatically loads websites over HTTPS where it’s offered, and allows you to block the minority of websites that don’t support HTTPS. The extension is supported by most browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera.

Privacy Badger

Another extension developed by the EFF, Privacy Badger is one of the best all-in-one extensions for blocking invisible third-party trackers on websites. This extension looks at all the components of a web page and learns which ones track you from website to website, and then blocks them from loading in the browser. Privacy Badger also learns as you travel the web, so it gets better over time. And it requires no effort or configuration to work, just install it and leave it to it. The extension is available on most major browsers.

uBlock Origin

Ads are what keeps the internet free, but often at the expense of your personal information. Ads try to learn as much about you — usually by watching your browsing activity and following you across the web — so that they can target you with ads you’re more likely to click on. Ad blockers stop them in their tracks by blocking ads from loading, but also the tracking code that comes with it.

uBlock Origin is a lightweight, simple but effective, and widely trusted ad blocker used by millions of people, but it also has a ton of granularity and customizability for the more advanced user. (Be careful with impersonators: there are plenty of ad blockers that aren’t as trusted that use a similar name.) And if you feel bad about the sites that rely on ads for revenue (including us!), consider a subscription to the site instead. After all, a free web that relies on ad tracking to make money is what got us into this privacy nightmare to begin with.

uBlock Origin works in Chrome, Firefox, and Edge and the extension is open source so anyone can look at how it works.

PixelBlock & ClearURLs

If you thought hidden trackers in websites were bad, wait until you learn about what’s lurking in your emails. Most emails from brand names come with tiny, often invisible pixels that alerts the sender when you’ve opened them. PixelBlock is a simple extension for Chrome browsers that simply blocks these hidden email open trackers from loading and working. Every time it detects a tracker, it displays a small red eye in your inbox so you know.

Most of these same emails also come with tracking links that alerts the sender which links you click. ClearURLs, available for Chrome, Firefox and Edge, sits in your browser and silently removes the tracking junk from every link in your browser and your inbox. That means ClearURLs needs more access to your browser’s data than most of these extensions, but its makers explain why in the documentation.

Firefox Multi-Account Containers

And an honorary mention for Firefox users, who can take advantage of Multi-Account Containers, built by the browser maker itself to help you isolate your browsing activity. That means you can have one container full of your work tabs in your browser, and another container with all of your personal tabs, saving you from having to use multiple browsers. Containers also keep your private personal browsing separate from your work browsing activity. It also means you can put sites like Facebook or Google in a container, making it far more difficult for them to see which websites you visit and understand your tastes and interests. Containers are easy to use and customizable.

Google will let you turn off YouTube ads for alcohol and gambling

If you’ve ever had a Father’s Day ad offering great deals for your dead dad sail into your inbox, you know that online advertising can be disturbing sometimes. Children’s gifts for people struggling to get pregnant, pet toys for your deceased doggo, the list goes on.

Google is taking a small but helpful step to help people control which ads they run into. Starting with YouTube in the U.S., users will be able to toggle off ads for alcohol and gambling — two subjects that are very sensitive for a big swath of people. The new option will roll out to Google Ads and non-U.S. YouTube early next year.

In a blog post Thursday, the company said that it would add the option to its ad settings controls, which already allow people to turn off targeted advertising altogether. Technically, Google says that users who opt to limit gambling and booze ads will see “fewer” of them, but that language is likely allowing for anything that slips through accidentally.

As a sober person, this is a helpful decision for a lot of people I know who’d rather not run into booze deals online out of the blue. More of this please!

Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns

Coronavirus is causing large and small businesses to drastically cut marketing budgets. In Forrester’s self-described “most optimistic scenario,” the analysts project a 28% drop in U.S. marketing spend by the end of 2021. Even Google is cutting its marketing budget in half. As marketers move forward, Forrester predicts marketing automation platforms will grow despite an overall decline in marketing technology investment.

Automation platforms help marketers scale their communications. However, scaling communications is not a substitute for intimacy, which all humans crave. Because of the pandemic, it is harder than ever to get attention, let alone make a connection. More mass email blasts from your marketing automation platform are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave. So how should marketers proceed? Direct mail captures 100% of your audience’s attention. It provides a sensory experience for your prospects and customers, and that helps establish an emotional connection.

Winning marketers are strategically merging automation and digital data with the more intimate channel of direct mail. We call this tactile marketing automation (TMA).

TMA is the integration of direct mail or personalized swag with a marketing automation platform. With TMA, a marketer doesn’t have to think about creating direct mail campaigns outside of digital campaigns. Rather, direct mail experiences are already fully integrated into the pre-built customer journey.

TMA uses intent data to inform content, messaging and the timing of direct mail touchpoints that maximize relevancy and scalability. Multichannel campaigns including direct mail report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without direct mail. Plus, 84% of marketers state direct mail improves multichannel campaign performance.

Read on to see how you can merge digital communications and direct mail to deliver remarkable experiences that spark a connection.

Incorporate intent data

Personalization is a key ingredient of a remarkable experience. Many marketers automate processes by introducing marketing software and then call it personalization. But, oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting. Brands can’t just change the first name on a piece of content and call it “personalized.” Real personalization is necessary and vital for real results. Our consumers expect more. The best way to introduce real personalization within a marketing mix is to use intent data and trigger-driven campaigns.

Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns

Coronavirus is causing large and small businesses to drastically cut marketing budgets. In Forrester’s self-described “most optimistic scenario,” the analysts project a 28% drop in U.S. marketing spend by the end of 2021. Even Google is cutting its marketing budget in half. As marketers move forward, Forrester predicts marketing automation platforms will grow despite an overall decline in marketing technology investment.

Automation platforms help marketers scale their communications. However, scaling communications is not a substitute for intimacy, which all humans crave. Because of the pandemic, it is harder than ever to get attention, let alone make a connection. More mass email blasts from your marketing automation platform are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave. So how should marketers proceed? Direct mail captures 100% of your audience’s attention. It provides a sensory experience for your prospects and customers, and that helps establish an emotional connection.

Winning marketers are strategically merging automation and digital data with the more intimate channel of direct mail. We call this tactile marketing automation (TMA).

TMA is the integration of direct mail or personalized swag with a marketing automation platform. With TMA, a marketer doesn’t have to think about creating direct mail campaigns outside of digital campaigns. Rather, direct mail experiences are already fully integrated into the pre-built customer journey.

TMA uses intent data to inform content, messaging and the timing of direct mail touchpoints that maximize relevancy and scalability. Multichannel campaigns including direct mail report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without direct mail. Plus, 84% of marketers state direct mail improves multichannel campaign performance.

Read on to see how you can merge digital communications and direct mail to deliver remarkable experiences that spark a connection.

Incorporate intent data

Personalization is a key ingredient of a remarkable experience. Many marketers automate processes by introducing marketing software and then call it personalization. But, oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting. Brands can’t just change the first name on a piece of content and call it “personalized.” Real personalization is necessary and vital for real results. Our consumers expect more. The best way to introduce real personalization within a marketing mix is to use intent data and trigger-driven campaigns.

The downfall of ad tech means the trust economy is here

2020 has brought about much-needed social movements. In June, activists launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a call to hold social media companies like Facebook accountable for the hate happening on their platforms.

The idea was to pull advertising spending to wake these social platforms up. More than 1,200 businesses and nonprofits joined the movement, including brands such as The North Face, Patagonia and Verizon. I led my company, Cheetah Digital, to join alongside some of our clients like Starbucks and VF Corp.

Stop Hate for Profit highlighted social media hitting its tipping point. Twitter and Snapchat chose to stand up against hate speech, banning political ads and taking action to flag misinformation. Facebook, unfortunately, has not yet been as proactive, or at best it’s been sporadic in its response.

While many thought the movement would come and go, the reality is it has only just begun. With America conducting arguably its most divisive election in history, these problems won’t just go away. For marketers, Stop Hate for Profit is more than a social movement — it is pointing to an issue with ad tech as a whole.

I believe we are seeing the downfall of ad tech as we know it with social media boycotts and data privacy leading the charge.

The social media quagmire

In May, Forrester released a report titled “It’s OK to Break Up with Social Media” that contained statistics indicating that consumers are fed up with social media: 70% of respondents said they don’t trust social media platforms with their data. Only 14% of consumers believe the information they read on social media is trustworthy. 37% of online adults in the U.S. believe social media does more harm than good.

Here is the reality we need to get back to: Social media isn’t built for marketers to reach consumers. In the beginning of the social media craze, brands rushed to get on board and join the conversations. What many brands discovered is these channels became a platform for customer complaints not for building positive brand perception. Furthermore, the social platforms marketers flocked to as an avenue to reach customers began charging marketers just to get to the customers.

The algorithms that define what content you see unfortunately make it harder for people to see opposing views, and this more than anything else polarizes society further. If you start looking at QAnon content, very soon that’s all the algorithms feed you. You might spend more time on social platforms fueling their ad dollars, but you have also lost a grip on reality. Marketers must admit things have gone too far on social media and it is okay to move on.

Privacy matters

Imagine you are in need of a minor surgery. Perhaps you take an Uber ride to the specialist for a consultation. Next, you go get the surgery and it is successful. Soon you find yourself at home recovering and all is well. That is, until you start scrolling Facebook. Suddenly advertisements pop up for medical malpractice lawyers, but you haven’t told anyone about the surgery and you certainly didn’t post about it on social media.

Here you are, just wanting to rest and recover at home, but instead you are being bombarded by advertisements. So how did those ads get there? You left a digital footprint, your data was sold and now you’re being hit with intrusive ads. To me, this story crystallizes the abuse ad tech has been fostering in the world around us. There’s an utter invasion of privacy and consumers aren’t blind to it.

Data privacy has been a focus of conversation for marketers for several years now. Just this year, America saw the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) go into effect and become enforceable. This legislation gives back control of data to the consumer. In June, Apple announced updates to make it harder for apps and publishers to track location data and use it for ad targeting. At the beginning of August, Meredith and Kroger announced a partnership to provide first-party sales data for advertising efforts in an attempt to move off of cookies. It is clear data privacy is not a fad going away anytime soon.

Where do marketers go from here?

I believe the future of marketing is the trust economy. The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, the invasion of privacy and shifting attitudes and behaviors of consumers point to the end of an era where marketers relied upon third-party data. Trust is now the most impactful economic power, not data. We conducted research earlier this year with eConsultancy, and our findings revealed that 39% of U.S. consumers don’t like personal ads driven from cookie data. People don’t want to be tracked and targeted as they click around the web. Ad tech’s roof is caving in and marketers must adjust.

The old methods of marketing won’t carry you through into the era of the trust economy. It is time to look to new channels and revisit old channels. We have to shift back to the channels where we own what is being said. Advertising on social platforms should be focused on driving consumers to owned channels where you can capture their permissions and data to connect with them directly. Consider email as a channel to focus on.

Don’t worry — it works. That same eConsultancy report found nearly three out of four consumers made a purchase in the last 12 months from an email sent by a brand or retailer and massively outperformed social ads when it came to driving sales. Similarly nine times as many U.S. consumers want to increase their participation in loyalty programs in 2020 than those that want to reduce their involvement. You have to ensure you are owning your data and loyalty programs are a treasure trove of consumer data you own. Emily Collins from Forrester does a good job of explaining why you can achieve this with a true loyalty strategy, not just a rewards program.

Your goal should be to build direct connections to consumers. Building trust means offering a value exchange for data and engagement, not going and buying it from a third-party. Fatemah Khatibloo, a principal analyst for Forrester wrote, “Zero-party data is that which a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize her.” This zero-party data is foundational for the trust economy and you should check out her advice on how it helps you navigate privacy and personalization.

Take responsibility

The trust economy is really about asking yourself, as a marketer, what you stand for. How do you view your relationship with consumers? Do you care? What kind of relationship do you want? Privacy has to be part of this. Accountability is crucial. We must be accountable to where we are putting our money. It’s time to stop supporting hate, propping up the worst of society and fueling division. Start taking responsibility, caring about social issues and building meaningful relationships with consumers built on trust.

Europe urges e-commerce platforms to share data in fight against coronavirus scams

European lawmakers are pressing major e-commerce and media platforms to share more data with each other as a tool to fight rogue traders who are targeting consumers with coronavirus scams.

After the pandemic spread to the West, internet platforms were flooded with local ads for PPE of unknown and/or dubious quality and other dubious coronavirus offers — even after some of the firms banned such advertising.

The concern here is not only consumers being ripped off but the real risk of harm if people buy a product that does not offer the protection claimed against exposure to the virus or even get sold a bogus coronavirus “cure” when none in fact exists.

In a statement today, Didier Reynders, the EU commissioner for justice, said: “We know from our earlier experience that fraudsters see this pandemic as an opportunity to trick European consumers. We also know that working with the major online platforms is vital to protect consumers from their illegal practices. Today I encouraged the platforms to join forces and engage in a peer-to-peer exchange to further strengthen their response. We need to be even more agile during the second wave currently hitting Europe.”

The Commission said Reynders met with 11 online platforms today — including Amazon, Alibaba/AliExpress, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft/Bing, Rakuten and (TechCrunch’s parent entity) Verizon Media/Yahoo — to discuss new trends and business practices linked to the pandemic and push the tech companies to do more to head off a new wave of COVID-19 scams.

In March this year EU Member States’ consumer protection authorities adopted a common position on the issue. The Commission and a pan-EU network of consumer protection enforcers has been in regular contact with the 11 platforms since then to push for a coordinated response to the threat posed by coronavirus scams.

The Commission claims the action has resulted in the platforms reporting the removal of “hundreds of millions” of illegal offers and ads. It also says they have confirmed what it describes as “a steady decline” in new coronavirus-related listings, without offering more detailed data.

In Europe, tighter regulations over what e-commerce platforms sell are coming down the pipe.

Next month regional lawmakers are set to unveil a package of legislation that will propose updates to existing e-commerce rules and aim to increase their legal responsibilities, including around illegal content and dangerous products.

In a speech last week, Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager, who heads up the bloc’s digital policy, said the Digital Services Act (DSA) will require platforms to take more responsibility for dealing with illegal content and dangerous products, including by standardizing processes for reporting illegal content and dealing with reports and complaints related to content.

A second legislative package that’s also due next month — the Digital Markets Act — will introduce additional rules for a sub-set of platforms considered to hold a dominant market position. This could include requirements that they make data available to rivals, with the aim of fostering competition in digital markets.

MEPs have also pushed for a “know your business customer” principle to be included in the DSA.

Simultaneously, the Commission has been pressing for social media platforms to open up about what it described in June as a coronavirus “infodemic” — in a bid to crack down on COVID-19-related disinformation.

Today the Commission gave an update on actions taken in the month of September by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and TikTok to combat coronavirus disinformation — publishing its third set of monitoring reports. Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market, said more needs to be done there too.

“Viral spreading of disinformation related to the pandemic puts our citizens’ health and safety at risk. We need even stronger collaboration with online platforms in the coming weeks to fight disinformation effectively,” he said in a statement. 

The platforms are signatories of the EU’s (non-legally binding) Code of Practice on disinformation.

Legally binding transparency rules for platforms on tackling content such as illegal hate speech look set to be part of the DSA package. Though it remains to be seen how the fuzzier issue of “harmful content” (such as disinformation attached to a public health crisis) will be tackled.

A European Democracy Action Plan to address the disinformation issue is also slated before the end of the year.

In a pointed remark accompanying the Commission’s latest monitoring reports today, Vera Jourová, VP for values and transparency, said: “Platforms must step up their efforts to become more transparent and accountable. We need a better framework to help them do the right thing.”

We need universal digital ad transparency now