Avoiding the Snoopers

Where Did The Ads Go?

Here is something quite interesting.  Since early July, I have been using the free blocking software from Abine.com called ‘DoNotTrackMe’ and more recently, ‘MaskMe’ to enhance and protect my internet browsing and email experience.  

I have noticed that my Facebook page is now ad free.  This I can only assume is because DoNotTrackMe (DNTM) has blocked Facebook from tracking my browsing in the past month around 1,300 times so far and has blocked all social media and other tracking businesses a total of almost 6,000 times in the same period. DNTM is a free service.

Can I (you) trust Abine.com?  Well, take a look at the Abine Fact Sheet pdf linked to above, do some research and make your own decision.  I am personally satisfied that they are not linked to or otherwise in cahoots with any data gathering organisations in the same way that such companies as Google and Facebook are.  If the NSA and other snoops want your data they will get it one way or another, legally or illegally.  Why make it easier for them to do so?

A couple of weeks ago, MaskMe (MM) became available and recognising that DNTM was working for me I decided to also try MaskMe.  For a number of reasons I decided to set up a new email address expressly for this purpose.  I am very happy that I made both of these decisions as I will describe later.  The basic email masking plus password masking (which I have also taken on board) are also free services. 

MaskMe also provides some pay services for masking telephone numbers and also credit card numbers which, because I have not tried those options, I cannot comment on.

Abine.com also provides a DeleteMe service to remove public profiles from leading data collection sites.  This is a quite expensive service only available, presumably for legal reasons, to US residents.

I thoroughly recommend Abine’s free services after having used them for one month and will now attempt to describe my experience.

Do Not Track Me

DNTM is only available for the Firefox and Google Chrome internet browsers.  If you are still using Internet Explorer or some other minor browser offering, why?

I moved away from Firefox for a while because Chrome was much flashier, bulked up with goodies and was easier to use than Firefox.  I still retained use of the Mozilla email client Thunderbird because I never trusted Gmail and still don’t.  However, the latest version of Firefox is very good so I have recently switched back to Mozilla offerings completely for two overwhelming reasons.

  1. Mozilla is open-source software and if you are not aware what that is, then you need to educate yourself about it.  Being open-source, it is therefore free of the unwanted influences of commercial interests and ostensibly run by generous free spirited people. 
  2. Google has all sorts of nefarious links and agreements with government snooping agencies and capitalist corporate greed.

DNTM and MM download as Add-ons in Firefox and Google Extensions in Chrome.  Everything else I say here will be of my experience within Firefox.

The first thing that you will notice in your browser after setting DNTM as an add-on is this new icon in your navigation toolbar

This is DoNotTrackMe and the colour and content of the rectangle at bottom right indicates the status of tracking for the site you are browsing.  Clicking on the icon will reveal a panel showing the complete tracking status for the site you are browsing, in detail as shown below.Clicking on either the ‘social networks’ or ‘companies tracking’ areas will reveal more detail and allow you to reverse the default DNTM action for individual cases if necessary.

For example, if you wish to share on Facebook and Facebook Connect has been blocked by DNTM on this site then you can reverse the blocking decision by clicking on the ‘blocked here’ switch, turning it from green to red in order to permit you to take the desired action.  If appropriate, you can reset it again afterwards.

Any alteration to the settings necessitates a page refresh before becoming effective.

Sometimes you will need to unblock certain tracking entities in order to view imbedded video on a site.  In some cases, DNTM will not automatically perform blocking for a particular source in order to preserve the browsing functionality and it will indicate this by labeling it as a suggested action which you can of course override.  More about Abine suggested actions here.

DNTM provides useful personal settings functionality by clicking on the icon at the top of the DNTM panel.  This presents a complete list of the tracking companies that Abine DNTM blocks and allows individual settings if desired.  A Tick Box switches on/off the use of Abine suggestions so you can tailor the operation of DNTM pretty much to suit your own purposes.

It even allows you to specify a list of specific websites for which you wish no blocking to be performed and to also record your personal reason for doing so.

This is in my view a great free software package.

Below is shown my current settings for this, my own blogging site.  You will see that I have allowed tracking by WordPress Stats.  This is because I want, naturally, to see the traffic that visits my site.

Mask Me

As soon as it became available, I started using MaskMe.  At the same time I also decided to set up a new email address.  Like most people who use email as a communication tool I get the unwanted attentions of spammers, phishers and other undesirables.  While my chosen email client, Mozilla Thunderbird does a reasonable job of filtering these things, it still takes a considerable slice of my time sorting out the remaining wheat from the chaff, so to speak, because I do like to subscribe to a lot of information sources.  I thought it prudent to see how MaskMe would improve my experience from a clean email start.

In fact it was this article on the Permaculture Research Institute website that started me off on all of these measures and led me to set up an email account at lavabit.com.

Lavabit is an open source independent business that has very strong user privacy policies. Now, whenever I have to sign up for an internet service that asks for an email address, I use my lavabit mail account but instead of giving my lavabit email address I use MaskMe to provide a unique encrypted address that is directly linked back to my lavabit account so these businesses never know my actual address. Seems to work very well.

Each time I receive an email from one of my masked sources (they are forwarded on by MM as received), the Inbox entry and notifications within the email tell me that it was received from a masked email address.

The first thing that you will notice in your browser after setting MM as an add-on is this new icon in your navigation toolbar.

Clicking on this icon will display the MaskMe Home page shown below and which provides links to all personally available MaskMe data and settings which can be synced to other computers and devices.

I am not going to provide a detailed personal visual walkthrough for this facility as that would reveal usage information that I need to keep secure but here is a brief online description of how MaskMe Emails works, from Abine.

Whenever you are required to enter an email address online eg. for a new account sign-in, MM will prompt you with the option to mask the email address by replacing it with a uniquely encrypted one which MM will keep track of for you.  You can set up as many of these as you like and all can be tracked from  the ‘Masked Emails’ button on the Home screen.

You will also see that whenever a new password is called for, MaskMe will offer to provide a unique encrypted password just for that particular website.  From the Encrypted Passwords option on the Home screen you are provided with a convenient online list of all your masked passwords that you can cut and paste into sign-on pages as required or allow MaskMe to pre-fill the data.  This means there is no necessity to use browser based saved password lists. See below.

All of your MaskMe account details may be downloaded from the Home page if wished, for added security, and this page can be locked using your own personal password to prevent access by others.

I am in the process of updating all of my online sign-in accounts to use masked information.  It is pretty easy to change things back if this should not work out to be as secure as it seems to be, but I don’t anticipate having the need to do that.

I hope this will be of interest and assistance to readers.  It is for sure that we need all of the protection that we can get in today’s world.

I can thoroughly recommend both Abine.com and lavabit.com products for increased internet security in today’s world of internet based spying and government snooping.

Added After Publishing

See my comment of Aug 11.  This is all that remains of the lavabit web site.  A sad day for freedom.

See also this Guardian UK article: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/aug/08/lavabit-email-shut-down-edward-snowden

And here at Boing Boing : http://boingboing.net/2013/08/08/lavabit-email-service-snowden.html

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2 thoughts on “Avoiding the Snoopers

  1. Sadly, since writing this post, the fears that made it necessary to do so have been realised. Lavabit, the independent email service that I recommended in the article came under attack from the chief snoopers at NSA, demanding through court orders that it reveal its customer information and data.

    Bravely, and with commendable honour, the owner of the site has decided to close the operation down rather than comply with the action requested by the government agency. The only remaining trace of the site is this letter from the owner: https://lavabit.com/ …which I will also add as an image to the original post in case it should disappear for some reason.

    It is a sad thing that events of this nature should come to pass in a country that lauds itself as ‘The Land of the Free’ but which has legalised interference in legitimate business affairs and a growing loss of personal freedoms for its citizens. I hope one day to see a comeback for lavabit.com.

    So where does that leave us? You can still engage some degree of security for your internet activity through the anti-tracking and masking software that I recommended in my article but I would advise you to choose your email service with great care. Stay well away from such popular services as Google Mail which works hand in glove with the NSA.

    They say that if you have nothing to hide then you don’t need to worry but they are not collecting your information for no reason. One day they will find cause to act on it, and you can guarantee that it will not be in your best interests.

    I have a suggestion, but not one that I have investigated to my own satisfaction as yet. So take it for what it is worth and if you have more knowledge, please do share. I just heard of Hushmail, a Canadian business which I think only recently started up. At least it is outside the US, which is a good start. See http://www.hushmail.com/.

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