Anonymous web browsing: Stopping cookies from tracking you.

IntnsRed's picture

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As I've indicated, I detest the lack of privacy on the Internet and it sickens me to see corporations tracking my movements and what I do.

This post is meant to be the first in a series of how to browse the Internet safely and anonymously. If you have thoughts, ideas and suggestions, please add your ideas in comments.

First, software setup:

• Debian GNU/Linux, of course (Squeeze at the time of this writing). Specifically, using Debian's Iceweasel web browser.

The single biggest problem in browsing the web is the use of cookies to track your travels.

Sure, sites will keep your IP address, but that's a different problem -- those sites can only monitor you when you're on their web site. With cookies, sites can track everywhere you go on the net.

The problem with just turning off cookies in your web browser is that some sites I want to go to (like debianHELP Smile require cookies. Good engineering should use the KISS principle, so I want a solution to deal with cookies that is simple, easy to deal with and doesn't require a lot of hassle or work by me.

The key to my solution is Firefox's (or Iceweasel's) Cookie Button add-on.

Of all the Firefox add-ons to deal with cookies, I like this one by far the best -- just because of the KISS principle (and also its effectiveness).

Cookie Button puts a simple icon on the Firefox/Iceweasel toolbar. Clicking on the Cookie Button gives you a drop-down menu with choices:

• Use your default cookie setting (see below)
• Reject cookies from the particular domain
• Accept session cookies from the particular domain
• Accept cookies from the particular domain

The way you use Cookie Button is to go into Iceweasel's Edit -> Preferences, under Privacy, and uncheck the "Accept cookies from sites" option. This makes Iceweasel reject all cookies by default.

Then browse the web normally. And again, by default I am rejecting cookies as I surf.

When I run into a site I want to use that requires cookies, I make a decision:

Do I trust the site and want to use the site regularly?

• If yes, I click on the Cookie Button icon and set it to accept cookies from that domain. This will write the cookies to my hard drive and I can then forever use the site and I will maintain its cookies normally.

• If no, then I click on the Cookie Button icon and set it to accept session cookies from that domain. This will accept cookies from the domain allowing me to use it, but cookies will not be written to the hard drive and are only held in memory until the session expires and/or I close my browser.

Voila! To me, that is the simplest way to deal with browser cookies -- no fuss, no muss; security with ease and no obscene amount of maintenance or work from me.

A whining aside: Why doesn't Iceweasel itself (without the Cookie Button) have an option to only accept session cookies by default under Edit -> Preferences?!

But bringing some sanity to the way Iceweasel does cookies is only half the battle, because more than half of the Internet's most popular sites use another form of cookies that are more persistent and which are often used to track you: Flash cookies.

Flash cookies are an Adobe invention, but they're fairly easy to deal with. What I use is a simple shell script to delete them:

#!/bin/sh
cd ~
echo "Removing Flash cookies..."
find . -iname *.sol -print -exec rm -v {} \;
echo "The above crap was deleted."

That script can be called by a cron job, from /etc/ppp/ip-down.d, or just run it when you think of it.

These two tactics bring cookies under control in Iceweasel and eliminates the problem of you being tracked by cookies.

• What?! You say it doesn't eliminate the problem? Please explain.

• Have any other methods or tactics of dealing with cookies? Let's hear 'em.

Re: Anonymous web browsing: Stopping cookies from tracking you.

IntnsRed's picture

> My own is a lot less sophisticated:

But it's straight to the point. Smile

I didn't like mine in a lot of ways because I had the find command search my entire home directory tree, nuking any *.sol files. (Who knows, *.sol could be used by some game/app and it'd get nuked in the process.)

Added later:

What do you know, there is at least one Debian package that uses *.sol files!

After making a symbolic link to my script from /etc/cron.daily (which was, of course, executed as the root user), I wiped out the data files for "kball", a Debian-packaged game.

I'd recommend using this as the script:

#!/bin/sh
cd /home/YourUserName
echo "Removing Flash cookies..."
find /home/YourUserName -iname *.sol -print -exec rm {} \;
echo "The above crap was deleted."

Re: Anonymous web browsing: Stopping cookies from tracking you.

1's picture

yes, there are other applications which store sol files. For example, gnu replacement for flash player like i state in http://oldsite.debianhelp.org/node/17221 (following this link, you'll also find a text about how the marketeers abuse the flash cookies in order to circumvent the ordinary cookie removal).

IntnsRed: My script is exactly the same Smile . Unfortunately, too dependable on glob pattern.

Re: Anonymous web browsing: Stopping cookies from tracking you.

Xeres's picture

Hello,
I have disabled my cooky function because I can't see those commercials everywhere. I always get commercials from game sites.
If I want to play mahjong-flowers or another game I have only one alternative because it's the best page I know.

Re: Anonymous web browsing: Stopping cookies from tracking you.

IntnsRed's picture

> because I can't see those commercials everywhere. I always get commercials from game sites.

Have you tried AdBlock Plus for Firefox/Iceweasel? If not, definitely do so. It does a very effective job of blocking most ads. I'm always shocked when seeing web sites in a non-AdBlocked browser (I think, "Wow, why do they put up with that?!").

Re: Anonymous web browsing: Stopping cookies from tracking you.

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