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Facebook isn’t the only one watching. Protect your privacy with these 5 apps

Right now, Facebook is coming under all kinds of fire for allegedly abusing data as part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But Facebook is far from alone when it comes to a tendency to track its users as they merrily journey around the internet.

How can you keep your personal data private online? Here are five tools which promise to help.

Mozilla’s Facebook Container

Mozilla's Facebook Container
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Remember how, in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter is locked in a cage in the center of a much larger room so that people can communicate with him without the threat of being set upon by a bloodthirsty cannibal? Minus the cannibalism reference, that’s pretty much what a new Mozilla Firefox browser extension does with Facebook.

Called the “Facebook Container” it keeps the social network in its own sealed-off tab so that you can enjoy liking friends’ status updates without Facebook tracking everything you do online. It won’t stop Facebook obtaining certain user data while you’re on Facebook, but it does make it tougher for the company to check out which other websites you visit and create targeted ads accordingly.

Think of it like having a conversation with Dr. Lecter, without him finding out what your plans are for the evening once you’ve left.

Ghostery

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ghostery is a newly open-source privacy and ad-blocking tool for both desktop and mobile web browsers that’s used by around 7 million users. It works by blocking third-party JavaScript “tags” and “trackers” from watching you while you browse through Tumblr blogs about dogs who wear hats (or whatever you do online).

It also lets you see a list of the trackers present on each site, so you can approve or block with a thumbs up or thumbs down, like a privacy-conscious version of Joaquin Phoenix’s character from Gladiator.

Brave

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You know that sci-fi “multiverse” trope in which a character is visited by another version of themselves from a parallel universe that’s either worse or better than our own? Brave is pretty much the multiverse Google Chrome — and, in this case, that’s a good thing.

It’s an ultra fast ad and tracker-blocking web browser that’s built on the same Chromium browser as Google’s Chrome, but cuts out the tracking cookies which let advertisers pursue you around the web. As a result, it’s harder for money-hungry markets to build up their anonymous profiles of users.

Heck, it even incorporates some of Tor’s “onion router” technology, which bounces your internet communications through a series of randomized intermediate servers to make you super hard to track. So a fast browser with fewer ads and tracking that makes you feel like an undercover agent? Sign us up!

CCleaner

CCleaner on Macbook lifestyle
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CCleaner is a bit different to the other tools on this list. It’s not a browser extension for one thing, but rather a piece of software which will remove unnecessary and redundant files from your PC or Mac.

While that includes things like invalid extensions, unused help files and basically anything else which can de-clog your computer, it also banishes temporary internet files, download history and — wait for it! — tracking cookies which may have found their way onto your machine. Run this alongside one or more of the other tools on this list and you’re golden.

uMatrix

uMatrix Screenshot
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A bit like playing a European board game, uMatrix seems mind bogglingly complex when you first give it a go, but a whole lot of depth when you get used to it. It’s another browser extension tracker blocker, but one that’s designed for “experienced users.”

What that essentially means is that all of the decisions are left up to you. Available for Chrome and Firefox, uMatrix gives you a complex control board on which you can choose to blacklist or whitelist different sites, along with different combinations of scripts, cookies, images and more. This probably isn’t the option to use if you’re just searching for a tracker blocker that “just works.”

However, if you’re willing to dedicate a bit of time and effort, this gives you as much control as you’d hope to wield.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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