Changing Habits – Firefox.

In pandemic lockdown 1.0, I got my email boxes down to “inbox zero”, and now I can clean out my emails in less than 20 minutes, give or take like ~10 emails that I will have to take action on.

It took several slogging days to get to that state. I just got into a trance, and worked through it, not knowing if it was important or worth the effort.

I had to think of and implement organizational systems. Make judgements about delete vs archive criteria. Unsubscribe from things. Make filter rules for things.

For my brain it was worth it. Even when I fall behind on my email now, I just have to put my head down and clean it up. Today, I just got it down to 5 emails, while writing this. I had to stop and clean it up. I felt like a hypocrite leaving it unchecked over black friday and whatnot.

This year, I also took a few stabs at trying to get my Notion workflow right, and although I’m not there yet, there is a huge difference between the content in Notion that got a full effort from me, and that which is just link dumps. I should “adopt a page” every day and just keep making it better. Today I had to do set up something in git and I wanted to make sure I did it right, and low and behold, I had every step beautifully laid out in Notion already. Much better than typing something into google…

Anyway, it’s Lockdown 2.0. Yay…

Right now in December 2020, I’m trying to operate under some new principles (this is my first first-draft):

  • Leave as little fingerprint as possible.
  • Stay away from algorithmic, programmatic, or “trending” content recommendations. Be deliberate about my consumption.
  • Try to build things with these in mind.

Changing my Browser Habits

Firefox sells itself as a privacy browser, and I decided to embrace that. If I need “less security”, I can open up something else (I have Firefox Dev Edition for website work, and Chromium). I don’t have a VPN service yet (someone send me a free lifetime vpn account and maybe i’ll set up an affiliate account and monetize).

Without the VPN, I’m trying to get the following things set up right in Firefox:

  • Set up the Preferences and Plugins in Firefox to be as secure and private as I can without breaking too much (and not just adblocking and robbing content creators of their cut).
  • Set up my Bookmarks so I can browse deliberately and avoid recommendations or google’s search engine unless necessary.
  • Follow a system of opening tabs in Containers to prevent cookie and tracking malarky from site to site.

There’s also a major habit change that I have to buy into to make this all work…

Deleting History, Cache, and Cookies.

Getting the Preferences and Plugins, Bookmarks, and Containers right is the bare minimum for browsing more privately, but I started thinking about the idea of deleting all of my cookies, history, and cache every time I closed Firefox. Extreme?

So every time I open FireFox, I would be starting from scratch*.

*Except, I have a password manager. And my bookmarks. And a very deliberate idea of what task I am trying to accomplish in the browser.

The upsides to this are that anybody that opens my browser, can only see my bookmarks and plugins. Everything else is gone, and to me, that’s decently secure.

I’ve been doing this for four days, and so far it seems doable!

To set these to delete in your Preferences when you close Firefox, go to the Privacy Firefox Preferences page, and check “Delete cookies and site data when Firefox is closed” and “Clear history when Firefox closes”.

If you want to dig deeper, there is a lot to familiarize yourself with on that page, and it is worth referencing Restore Privacy’s “Firefox Privacy – The Complete How-To Guide“, or Sun Knudsen’s Privacy Guides Youtube Playlist (which has 3 Firefox videos on it).

For this workflow, you’re REALLY going to be wanting to use a password manager. I use one that works as a Firefox plugin.

Plugins

I say start with EFF’s Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere, FireFox Multi-Account Containers by Mozilla, and your password manager and go from there.

I’m testing ClearURLs, Cookie Autodelete, and Decentraleyes.

Containers

Mozilla’s page on Containers explains them quite well, especially the list at the bottom. Basically, you know how it’s bad to cross the streams in the original Ghostbusters? You can avoid crossing the streams if you set up your containers right. This should just be good habit – take a second to consider what services are building profiles about you in the background while you surf, and container them off. Why not do this?

Bookmarks

In the Firefox search bar, if you start the search with a *, it will will search your bookmarks. So use that fact to your advantage. You can stay out of Google if you really organize your bookmarks with the sites that you want to find answers from. (Beyond that, I use Duck Duck Go as a backup, and only Google if it’s the right place to find the answer).

CNTL+D = Bookmark (or click the star). You’ll see some details you can add in the little popup.

If you hit CTRL+ SHIFT + O on Manjaro Linux Firefox, it will open up your Bookmarks Library window, and you can edit those same details, and more.

There’s a Bookmarks Toolbar you can have above your browser viewport, where I’m building a folder system where I can open bunches of sites at once with my mouse. This goes back to the idea of being very deliberate about why I’m in the web browser.

Besides the Bookmarks Toolbar and the Bookmarks Library, hit CTRL+B and it will open the Bookmarks Sidebar. And for a slightly different workflow, hit ALT+B to open the Bookmarks Menu item at the top of the browser.

Security experts would warn against browser sync’ing, I think, but I sync my bookmarks right now, so that it’s possible for me to delete my history, cache, cookies, data, etc. The tradeoff works for me. I want to be able to hit ALT+F4 (Close Window in Manjaro KDE) and have my browsing very hard to recover. What sites I like to check for microphone recommendations, without consulting google, isn’t really a security threat to me.

Here are the Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts if you need ’em BOOKMARKED (because you can search your bookmarks first, and we don’t have to touch Google).

More to Come.

I’m just starting to figure out this workflow. I find the web exhausting, and it’s up to me to use it better.

I would love to barely have to log into google in my browser (much) anymore. That means maybe only looking at my youtube subscriptions on a single device, or using a 3rd party email app to read my gmail emails. I have possibly searched google twice in the past 5 days, and duckduckgo about 5 times. To me these are great short term successes that I want to build on.

I used to want the most convenient settings, now I am ok breaking a few things to try not leave a fingerprint.

For example, I can’t embed Youtube videos or Tweets in this WordPress editor with my Firefox settings as they are. My first instinct was to start white listing my sites…and then I thought, do I really want to be subjecting people who visit my site to these trackers? hmmm… Or I could always just open the post in Firefox Dev or Chromium and embed them there.

Update Dec 5th. I broke some stuff.

This setup needs some tweaks still.

There are several issues in the WordPress editor, and I’m going to hopefully have time to figure them out.

In Notion, the biggest issue currently is the icons chosen for a page don’t reflect in the favicon in the browser tab. Instead it’s just pixel static. I saw a mention of this in one of the links above, so I will revisit that, but not a deal killer. Notion works great otherwise, it seems.

Figma needs WebGL initialized so I just need to maybe make a script to turn on webgl and open figma in firefox, or just use Figma in other browsers if I’m lazy.

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