Ungoogled Chromium - My Browser Setup

Image By Richy Great

Over the last year I've made a few changes to the way I browse the web, and I thought I'd put together a quick overview. I actually use both Firefox and Ungoogled Chromium all the time. I use Firefox for the tabs I need to have open all the time: time tracking, messages, outlook calendar, et cetera.

What Browser

Previously I used Firefox exclusively, but as time has rolled by I notice more and more websites that just aren't fully compatible with Firefox.

To say that I'm "concerned" about Google's use of my private information would be an understatement. I don't really feel comfortable with a corporation looking over my shoulder every minute of the time I'm online. Ungoogled Chromium is a project by github user Eloston. It purports to be "Google Chromium, sans integration with Google". The project's readme describes this thusly:

Without signing in to a Google Account, Chromium does pretty well in terms of security and privacy. However, Chromium still has some dependency on Google web services and binaries. In addition, Google designed Chromium to be easy and intuitive for users, which means they compromise on transparency and control of internal operations.

ungoogled-chromium addresses these issues in the following ways:

1. Remove all remaining background requests to any web services while building and running the browser
2. Remove all code specific to Google web services
3. Remove all uses of pre-made binaries from the source code, and replace them with user-provided alternatives when possible.
4. Disable features that inhibit control and transparency, and add or modify features that promote them (these changes will almost always require manual activation or enabling).

These features are implemented as configuration flags, patches, and custom scripts. For more details, consult the Design Documentation.

You can download and install Ungoogled Chromium from here. Notably, the Windows binaries are not built by the project maintainer. That means that there's a "non-zero probability that these binaries may have been tampered with." All things considered, I'm comfortable with this risk.

Extensions - Chromium Web Store

By default, you won't be able to download addons from the Chromium Web Store. As in, there won't even be a download button on the addon's page. Chromium Web Store by NeverDecaf resolves this.

Extensions - BitWarden

I use BitWarden as my password manager. There's loads of alternatives but BitWarden is a rock solid, compelling solution even using their free tier.

Using a password manager is probably the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself online. Many people know that you shouldn't use the same password in multiple places online, but don't understand why. It's simply that not all services you use are equally secure. Suppose you create an account in a gardening forum to ask why your Rhododendron's aren't as colorful as you would like. The software the forum is running may be decades old with many published security issues. If a "threat actor" is able to obtain your password there, they will try this same password and email combination at a bunch of other sites.

Extensions - uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin blocks ads on web pages.

Prima facie, this just makes browsing the web more enjoyable. Looking at webpages oozing with ads is just plain unpleasant, and doesn't improve the experience in any way.

As a by-product, this will improve the load times on web pages as your browser doesn't need to download ads. In addition, blocking ads improves your privacy as your browser isn't reporting the pages you visit to advertisers.

Cookies are small tokens that a website hands out to visiting browsers, and then the browser attaches them to future requests from that site, allowing the server to identify returning users.

There's loads of legit uses for cookies, like remembering that you're logged in to a site, but of course there's a lot of nefarious uses as well, mostly as a means to track you around the web.

Vanilla Cookie Manager will periodically delete all the cookies your browser has collected, while keeping cookies from sites you whitelist.

Extensions - Canvas Fingerprint Defender

Fingerprinting allows servers to track you around the web even without cookies, by scrutinising your browser. You might think that there must be thousands of people using the same laptop and browser, but the variety of information available is alarmingly extensive. You can take a look yourself at Am I Unique. Imagine walking in to a shop and having them make a list of every item in your hand bag (man bag?), and then using that list to determine whether you've ever been there before (or which other participating shops you've visited).

One of the key metrics used in fingerprinting is "canvas", which is the technology used by your browser to display some images. The image will look slightly different depending on your hardware, but also your hardware drivers and so on. It's a "highly specific" indicator of unique users.

Canvas Fingerprint Defender obfuscates your uniqueness by making subtle changes to the images a server asks your browser to generate. A human wouldn't notice the differences, but it's enough for a server to think you're a different person.

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About the Author

Levi is an accountant and web technology enthusiast from Western Australia. Find out more about his firm or his web stuff.