One of the main reasons I use Firefox as my daily driving web browser is because of its reliability, its community, and most of all its add-ons! I regularly have between 25 and 30 tabs open at all times. One thing I hadn’t really considered until recently, was how add-ons affect browser performance. I recently learned about an add-on that that not only improved the performance of my browser, but also solved some security concerns I’ve had about other add-ons.
Scams, scams, and more scams
For a long time now, I’ve been using an ad blocker regularly, since it not only reduces the likelihood of encountering malicious websites, malware, and scams, it also reduces bandwidth usage, which when I was on dial-up meant a significant impact. My blocker of choice was none other than Adblock Plus. I coupled this with WOT (Web Of Trust) to avoid accidentally landing on malicious websites. A few years ago, I began to learn more about online privacy, and things that websites and companies can do to track you, so I started using DoNotTrackMe, which has since become Blur. At some point I found the new additional features this add-on had were excessive, so I switched to Ghostery for tracker blocking. Finally, after taking a networking course and learning more about online security there, I found this nifty add-on called HTTPS Everywhere, which forces web pages to load with SSL when available. I had this setup going for a while, but slowly I began to learn the dangers of using such security tools.
The first truth I learned about was with Adblock Plus. While it has a feature implemented after I started using it, the add-on would (by default), allow certain ads to be displayed, provided they met certain requirements to be considered ‘minimally intrusive’. I read up on their definition of this, and felt it was a good cause. It did seem a bit controversial though to have companies pay to get this certification. I did however like the idea of still being able to support websites with minimal inconvenience.
Last summer, I had a big eye opener. WOT, which I used for several years, I discovered wasn’t nearly as effective as I thought. The community that runs the website, which determines how to rate websites, is corrupt, leading to false positives and low warnings for suspicious pages. Furthermore, there are allegations that the company responsible for the add-on is selling browsing habit information to 3rd parties. I immediately got rid of this add-on for these reasons, and since it wasn’t nearly as useful after switching to Linux anyhow.
All this leads me to the add-on I’m now using: uBlock Origin. This one, like some of the others, does quite effective ad blocking, as well as blocking malicious websites. It also has a significantly lower usage of resources, notably RAM usage, while enabled. What really pleased me the most though, is that this one is also Open Source under the GPLv3. This means that there isn’t a big company running the show, and no secrets going on behind closed doors. Plus, the community can make improvements to it easily. When I installed this, I removed both Adblock Plus and Ghostery, and the latter I found allegations was selling browsing information to ad companies.
I’m now sticking with uBlock Origin (which reduced my browser memory usage by roughly 500MB), along with HTTPS Everywhere. As both of these projects are Open Source, I feel much more confident that they will accomplish the tasks they are designed for, and nothing more. This just goes to show how Open Source has many benefits, and not just for typical software.