Speed up surfing and keep your privacy

Every time we visit web sites to check our email or read the news we are bombarded by adverts. For most Tanzanians, these adverts are selling products that cannot be bought in Tanzania, but still they come. They steal our concentration away from what we really want to do. They slow down our surfing, as you have to download all those pictures. Most annoyingly, some sites, particularly those we feel we shouldn’t really be visiting, pop up an annoying number of extra windows with adverts. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of stopping that? There is!

On the internet, you are rarely alone in your grievances or interests. Multitudes of other users are fed up to the back teeth with adverts on the internet. Some of the cleverer ones have set themselves the task of protecting us from this rampant commercialism. If you want to cut down the unnecessary mental intrusions, speed up the time websites take to download, and relive the muscles in your arm that ache so much from closing all those pop up windows, read on.

Clever internet users have written programmes that filter out adverts and other annoyances. They have then made these programmes available for use by other people. Many of these programmes are available for free. One of the best is The Proxomitron. This highly customisable programme will remove adverts; suppress pop-ups and a whole host of other nuisances. Simply install, reconfigure Internet Explorer to use The Proxomitron as a proxy, and all web pages will pass through The Proxomitron before you see them. The Proxomitron can tell which parts of the web page are adverts and removes them. You may never see another advert again! All the writer requests in return is that you buy a record by his favourite band, Japanese punk kittens Shonen Knife. You can still use the software legally without buying the record of course. The Proxomitron is garishly designed, and can be tricky to configure, but the best programme of its breed. Be sure to read the instructions carefully.

Savvy Internet Café managers may be able to figure out how to run The Proxomitron on their server, and set up all the computers their clients use to connect through the server. This will prevent all users from wasting their time and money downloading adverts rather than checking email and reading the news. Used like this it is also possible to set up The Proxomitron to prevent access to specified web sites, so if your users have installed XXX-Watcher one time to many, you can stop them from visiting the sites that install it, or any other site that is deemed undesirable.

Cookie Monsters

Cookies have long been a concern of the paranoid web user. Named after the crumbs Hansel and Gretel tried to use to escape from the fairy tale forest, cookies allow a web site to recognise repeat visitors. In many cases cookies are very useful, relieving you of having to log on at some websites. However, cookies have been used to track people’s movement around the web, and this makes some people nervous. Many pieces of software have been written to deal with cookies, due to these concerns over privacy. After much campaigning Microsoft finally added more complex cookie controls into the latest version of Internet Explorer (6) which allow users to specify which sites are can make cookies. If you look in the Tools menu of Internet Explorer 6, and select Internet Options you will see a tab labelled Privacy. I suggest that you change your settings from the default by clicking on Advanced, ticking Override automatic cookie handling, and then ask to be prompted for First-party Cookies. Block Third-party Cookies altogether. You may as well allow session cookies, as these cannot be used to track you and are needed for some sites. From now on you will be asked if you want to allow a cookie from sites that try to make them. You can decide to accept all cookies from some sites, and block all from another. After a while you will find that you aren’t asked about cookies so much.

Of course, this probably isn’t practical or necessary in an Internet Café. Owners should probably leave the default settings in place.

Interesting Web Sites

  • www.proxomitron.org – Home of The Proxomitron
  • www.cookiecentral.org – information about cookies, why they can be a problem, and what to do about them, as well as other information on privacy online
  • www.epic.org – Electronic Privacy Information Centre. Have a look at their list of privacy tools

Originally published in Arusha Times 277

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