Extensions for a Quieter Internet
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If you haven’t switched to Firefox yet, you’ll want to consider it this week. While Google is busy making some sketchy changes to Chrome on the road to (what else) forcing more ads upon it’s users, Mozilla is updating Firefox mobile in a big and exciting way.
Starting literally today (assuming I scheduled this post correctly) Firefox on Android will gain the ability to install over 400 new extensions. Remember this post where I painstakingly described how to install an extension on Firefox mobile? Well, it’s obsolete now! Annoying for me, but still cool actually!
Using a browser instead of apps to view content gives you more control over what you see and allows you to better protect yourself. A big part of the reason “apps” became a thing in the first place was to prevent users from having control over their experience, and doing horrible stuff like blocking ads. Even though most apps are in essence just glorified single-webpage viewers, it’s often illegal to modify how it presents content the way one could with a website.
If you’re worried about Firefox sucking or being bloated, I can assure you it does not and is not. I’ve been using it full-time for three years now and it’s just as fast, if not faster than Chrome. It also syncs bookmarks and tabs across all your devices seamlessly. If you’d like to switch from Chrome and keep all your stuff, Mozilla has a guide here.
Without further ado, here are what I consider my “essential” browser extensions:
I could do a whole post on uBlock Origin, because it’s by far the most valuable extension here, but I’ll keep this brief. uBlock is known as an “ad blocker,” but it’s also much more. Simply installing it and not touching any settings will dramatically improve your web experience on it’s own; but there’s a lot more you can do.
Go into the extension’s preferences (Extensions > uBlock Origin > three dots menu > Options) click “filter lists” and you’ll see a list of lists. These are all maintained by volunteers that uBlock looks at to know what to block. Here are a few lists I recommend enabling:
EasyList – Annoyances
AdGuard – Mobile App Banners
EasyList/uBO – Cookie Notices
AdGuard – Social Media
A fun fact about the uBlock origin developers is that not only do they do the work for free, they refuse to accept any donations for their work. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!
I’ve talked about LibRedirect before here. If you’ve never heard about alternative front-ends before, I recommend you check out that article, but here’s the tl;dr:
Alternative frontends are alternate, simplified, ways of viewing a website. I like using them for Twitter and Tiktok, because it strips away all the nonsense and links you directly to the content. Think of them like a filter for intentionally bloated websites (who would prefer you use the app). They’re great for when a friend texts you a meme or something, and you want to quickly view it without all the garbage.
LibRedirect is an extension that automatically redirects you to an alternative frontend when you click a link. If you’re someone like me, who doesn’t have a Twitter, TikTok or Reddit account, but occasionally wants to view content on those pages, alternative frontends greatly streamline the experience and LibRedirect is basically essential.
Leechblock is an extension for helping to thwart getting sucked into mindless or distracting screen time. It’s highly customizable, which may be off-putting to some, since it takes a minute to set up, but I think of it like a “Ulysses pact” where you put in effort up front to block yourself from making an unwanted decision later on.
Some things I’ve done with Leeckblock:
Block Reddit.com (the homepage), but allow Reddit.com/whatever in case I want to access a particular thread from Google or something.
Add a 30-minute timer to sites that suck me in. When there’s five minutes left, it turns the page grayscale, letting me know time is almost up.
Delayed the loading of a page by five seconds. Just enough time to force me to think about if I really need to go there.
Allow a distracting website only during my lunch break and after work hours.
Or any combination of things! I am a big proponent using tools like this for guiding behavior, but not throwing up a wall (that could cause me to just disable the extension altogether). And I appreciate the options Leechblock has for custom-tailoring to your specific needs.
DF “Distraction-Free” YouTube
If you’re already using LibRedirect, and/or viewing YouTube via a frontend, you may not need this one. DF YouToutube makes it easily to remove the distracting aspects of YouTube. If you’re someone who is easily derailed by all the extra shiny things when viewing a YouTube video, this extension keeps it out of sight (and mind). Technically, there’s nothing DF YouTube does that uBlock origin can’t do either, but this extension makes it a lot easier.
Pocket/Instapaper/Push To Kindle
Mozilla actually owns Pocket, and it comes built-in to Firefox. Instapaper is a similar extension. Both make it easy to save articles online later for easy viewing later (perhaps on a dedicated reading tablet). I like using Pocket for “quick” stuff, and Instapaper for more longform stuff.
PushToKindle is a similar extension that formats articles for cleanly sending to a (duh) Kindle. The free desktop version is limited to 10 articles/month, but as far as I can tell, the mobile app is unlimited.
Side note: If you’re looking for a non-Amazon e-reader, Kobo devices now have pocket built in. I have a perfectly functional Kindle I bought years ago, but if I were in the market nowadays, I would absolutely go with the Kobo for this functionality alone.
This is a simple one. You know when you go to copy a webpage to send to someone and when you paste it in the send field, it’s 1000 characters long? Most of that text is tracking information.
The ClearURLs extension trims away all that excess, leaving only the basics needed.
That’s it from me, please let me know if you have any I’ve missed! I’d love to hear any other essential suggestions you may have. There’s a war on for our attention out there, and the best defensive tool we have is working together!
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