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User personalities with separate browsing data

  • To minimise information collection, I use several different browsers (Opera, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome) throughout the day. I dedicate each browser to a set of tasks such as personal use, business use, online shopping, etc. That way, I manage to "lower my profile" wrt. tracking. If a shopping site stores cookies or website data in one browser, it will not cause "related" advertisements to pop up next to my search results when I use another browser in a business meeting while hooked up to a projector (which could be embarrassing, depending on what I bought last :face_with_stuck-out_tongue_winking_eye:). What I am effectively doing, is creating silos of cookies and other browsing data, since this data is not shared between different browsers. IMO, this is a neat privacy feature.

    I thus came to the conclusion that it would be super nice if I could stay in my favourite browser (Opera) all day, and at the same time have my "privacy silos". My suggestion is hence for a new feature which I would call "browsing personalities".

    • No cookies or other browsing data would be shared between these personalities.
    • I could define and delete them, give them calling names, and designate one of them as the default choice for creating new windows.
    • When I create a new window using the current "new window" command, it would create a new window under the default personality.
    • When I create a new window with a new "new window with personality", it would prompt me under which personality I want the new window created.
    • Browsing data and cookies would be shared between all windows of the same personality, but of course not between different personalities.
    • Data for one personality is persisted between sessions just like today.
    • In the default configuration, there would be two personalities only ("default", and "private browsing"), which would result in today's behaviour (browsing data and cookies shared between all "default" windows, but not private); in the UX sense it would hence be backwards compatible.

    What should happen when I drag a tab to a window of a different personality? That's a tough one. I guess that should not be possible. Tabs should only be draggable between windows of the same personality.

    How do personalities relate to private windows? I guess private windows are a special kind of personality, which does not persist data between sessions.

    Looking forward to your thoughts.

  • Why not just use an ad blocker, default to blocking cookies, and make exceptions to allow the cookies that you really need? I also have extensions to help block tracking.

  • @concretable, thanks for your suggestion. I am using ad blockers, but there's an infinite race between ad networks changing their domains, and ad blockers updating their blacklists. So that kind of does the job, but leaves room for improvement still.

    I have been using your opt-in approach (disallow cookies and localStorage by default, and make explicit exceptions only for what I need) in the past. It turned out to be too impractical in the long run, however. I ended up using developer tools to figure out which exceptions I needed to add to give a site's scripts access to what they needed to function. Repeat exercise when site operator makes updates. Hence, I finally gave up on this scheme, and started relying on ad blockers to do that maintenance work for me.

    This is where my new feature comes in. Even if ad networks are used to circumvent the same origin policy, I could still isolate things in the proposed personalities. I would get to choose whom I'd allow to know what other sites I have visited, and whom not to allow.

    Also, some sites start refusing to serve content when ad blockers are used. I could visit those sites in a personality without ad blocker, and see the content. When using another personality, they would still not be able to track me.

    Yes, there's DNT, but that depends on cooperation by the web server. No guarantees.

    I think it would seem fair to characterise this new feature as another layer of separation over and above the same origin policy. The beauty of the concept - to me anyway - is that there would be no f***ing way for websites to get at information in other personalities (browser software bugs aside, of course).

  • If you have a good cookie manager, it is very easy to change cookie settings if you need to do that with a particular site. It is also easy to experiment with the settings to see what works. I find that defaulting to blocking still works best for me.
    I use uBlock Origin with all my browsers, and I have several subscriptions to block not only ads, but trackers, nuisances like the Facebook, Twitter, etc. stuff that is all over some sites, and anti-adblock sites as well. I have a personal blocklist that I added to "My Filters" that blocks whole domains that are particularly annoying.
    With Opera, I have an extension (NoRef) that I set to block third-party referrers. I did have to make a few exceptions, but not that many.
    I use Disconnect to block some of the tracking.
    I used an extension for modifying headers to remove ETags from my browser's request headers if a site is trying to use those for tracking.

  • Using Windows as an example here.

    Download the Opera installer, launch it, click "options", set "install path" to "C:\Users\yourusername\My Program Files\Opera Business", set "install for" to "Standalone Installation" and install.

    Right-click on "C:\Users\yourusername\My Program Files\Opera Business\launcher.exe" and create a shortcut to it. Put the shortcut where you want and rename it to "Opera Business".

    Right-click on the shortcut and choose "properties". Then, on the "shortcut" tab, modify the value of the "target" field to be:

    "C:\Users\yourusername\My Program Files\Opera Business\launcher.exe" --private
    

    Repeat all those steps for "Opera Shopping" and "Opera Personal". Skip modifying the shortcut tab if you don't want to start with a private window.

    For each of those, you can adjust the settings for what to accept and retain as far as cookies etc. go.

    There's also another way to do it instead.

    Just create multiple shortcuts to "C:\Program Files\Opera\launcher.exe", name each what you want and modify their targets like so:

    "C:\Program Files\Opera\launcher.exe" "--user-data-dir=C:\Users\youusername\AppData\Roaming\Opera Software\Opera Business" --private
    "C:\Program Files\Opera\launcher.exe" "--user-data-dir=C:\Users\youusername\AppData\Roaming\Opera Software\Opera Personal" --private
    "C:\Program Files\Opera\launcher.exe" "--user-data-dir=C:\Users\youusername\AppData\Roaming\Opera Software\Opera Shopping" --private
    

    Again, skip the "--private" if you don't want it and use any path in your userprofile space you like for the user data directory. The default Opera profile will be in "Opera Software\Opera Stable" that gets used when you don't launch Opera with one of those specific shortcuts.