TIME Apps & Web

The Best Browser Privacy Tools (That Don’t Make Life More Difficult)

Privacy
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In a year when social media giants and governments alike have made headlines for tracking users online without their consent, battening down the virtual hatches has become a vital part of Internet hygiene.

Blocking tracking technologies, however, also disables those handy auto-fill log-ins and web personalization features, preventing you from easily shopping online and making your web experience feel as if you’re back in 1999.

So we went in search of privacy tools that don’t impact your browsing experience. We tested browser tools ranging from the basic Private Mode on all browsers to full-featured ad blockers. We looked at the four most-used browsers in the United States: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. Here’s what we found to be most helpful for safeguarding your privacy and anonymity — and what measures of convenience you might have to give up if you use them.

The lowdown on cookies

Cookies are small text files that contain one or more bits of information about your computer, most commonly a user ID a website assigns you in order to keep track of your movements through the site. Cookies are often essential to using a site successfully, enabling you to check out from shopping sites or click around Facebook without having to repeatedly re-enter your password.

These first-party cookies come from the website you’re on and exist mostly to offer you a personalized web experience. Benefits include greeting you by name, giving you weather data relevant to your home location and keeping track of your achievements in a game.

It’s the third-party cookies from ads on the websites you visit that track you as you move between websites. Advertisers place these cookies in their advertisements, allowing them to follow your movements among the network of sites where they advertise.

Information about your surfing patterns goes toward compiling a profile of preferences and basic personal data — things like location, age and gender — that is used to create targeted advertising. If you’ve clicked on a lot of gardening sites, for example, targeted ad placements could even show you ads for tools or plants on non-gardening sites. If that bothers you, you can disable third-party cookies in your browser settings.

Browse in private mode

Seeing targeted advertising probably doesn’t bother most people if all they’re surfing for is news, cute cat pictures or a new iPhone. But for looking up information about something like health concerns, privacy mode allows you to browse without associating the search with your existing profile.

To open a private window in your browser:

  • Firefox: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P
  • Chrome: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+N
  • Safari: Safari/Private Browsing
  • Internet Explorer: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P

This turns off your web history and enables the cookies necessary for the site to work but blocks third-party cookies. At the end of the session, all cookies are deleted.

The downside

Browsing in private mode does not stop the website from recording that you were there based on your IP address, which can still be tracked. And, crucially, private mode doesn’t stop social networks from tracking you. It’s best used for hiding activity on a shared computer rather than actually remaining invisible online.

Block third-party cookies

Third-party cookies aren’t the only way to track people around the Internet, but disabling them in your browser’s settings means advertisers can no longer store files on your browser to track your web surfing.

Here’s how to block third-party cookies, assuming you’re running the most recent versions of the browsers (a good idea from a security point of view):

  • Chrome: Preferences > Show Advanced Options (at the bottom) > Privacy > Content settings > Check “block third party cookies and site data.”
  • Internet Explorer: Tools > Internet Options > Privacy > Move the slider to the level of cookies you want blocked
  • Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > History > Select “Use custom settings for history,” then set “Accept third-party cookies” to Never.
  • Safari: Preferences > Privacy > Select to block cookies “from third parties and advertisers.”

The downside

Some websites require third-party cookies to work; for example, Microsoft asks you to accept cookies when downloading an update. In these cases, head into your browser settings and add the sites as exceptions.

Block the Flash super cookie

Sites may store Flash cookies on your computer regardless of whether you have allowed third-party cookies. Flash cookies can’t be easily deleted, and they may be downloaded to your computer from any website running Adobe Flash (such as sites with video or an interactive application). Designed to locally store your settings for the rich web apps that Flash enables, the capability for the Flash plug-in to allow other sites to store files in a user’s computer can also be hijacked by advertisers wanting a new way to track Internet users.

Flash cookies can identify you across different browsers on the same device and, in some cases, have been found to regenerate deleted browser cookies. Because they have far more storage (up to 100KB) than other cookies, they can contain more complex information about your habits. Like browser cookies, Flash cookies are used by websites to deliver a customized experience as well as give advertisers extra data.

Cookie cleaners and Flash player settings

Blocking Flash entirely could be an option with script-blockers such as NoScript (Firefox) or ScriptNo (Chrome). However, such plug-ins stop all Flash and Java on all pages, breaking the sites in many cases, until you can customize the settings so that trusted objects and pages can run freely. This can take a long time and represent a pain for the less technically minded.

If you use Firefox, you can download the BetterPrivacy, which automatically deletes Flash cookies as they crop up (as well as clearing cookies already there). You can also whitelist necessary Flash cookies, such as cookies used when playing a game.

If you’re not on Firefox, you’ll have to dig into your computer. First, disable future Flash cookies from being left on the machine. If you’re on a PC, open Control Panel and click on Flash player > Local Storage settings by site. You’ll find the default is “Allow All Websites to Store Data”; change it to “Block All Websites from Storing Data.” Then you can easily delete the Flash cookies by hitting the neighboring Delete All button, followed by “Delete All Site Data and Settings.”

If you’re on a Mac, change your Flash settings online at Macromedia by clicking on Global Storage Settings in the (pretty clunky) Flash-based settings manager. Uncheck the box for allowing third-party Flash content to store data on your computer. Then pull the slider for how much data third-party companies can store on your machine to None (far left).

Finally, to delete sites that have already left cookies on your computer, grab the free download CCleaner (Mac/PC), which deletes both Flash and browser cookies.

The downside

Sites including eBay use Flash cookies to verify your identity, so deleting them across the board can mean needing to re-enter passwords more frequently.

Dodge tracking you never signed up for

Microsoft recently announced it would not scan any of the content in its Outlook.com inboxes to use in targeted advertising, but Google makes no such promise with Gmail — quite the opposite.

As for the social networks, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn track users even after they’ve signed out — and even if you don’t click on a social media sharing button. The very act of landing on a page with a social-share button means it relays back to the social network. Sophos’ security blog has a straightforward account of how Twitter does it and how you can opt out. (Remember that opting out doesn’t stop ads or the collecting of information.)

In addition, Facebook uses an alternative to tracking cookies called a conversion pixel, which advertisers affix to their ads to see how many clicks they get. So a website doesn’t need a Facebook button to let Facebook know you’ve been there.

Anti-tracker plug-in Do Not Track Me (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer) stops a website from sending information back to Facebook or Google unless you actually click one of the +1 or Like buttons. It also blocks other trackers and boasts a clean, intuitive interface for customizing blocking options. The Mask My Email and Make Me A Strong Password features help deter spam and hackers. When you’re signing up for a new account, masking your email address stops potentially dodgy sites from selling your real email address, while the password option creates a hard-to-guess password (that, crucially, isn’t the same as one you already use), then saves it in the plug-in’s encrypted password manager.

On the toolbar, clicking the Do Not Track Me icon shows how many trackers it has blocked — for me, 666 in under 24 hours.

Disconnect (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Opera) is a similar plug-in that offers the additional benefit of dividing trackers into social, analytic and advertising categories. A graph shows the time and bandwidth saved by blocking trackers requesting information, and you get the option of adding trusted sites (and their cookies) to a whitelist.

The downside

There’s little downside to taking any of these anti-tracking measures. The only thing these scrappy little guys don’t do is block ads; you’ll still see them, but they won’t be targeted based on your previous clicks.

Kill most ads

Many companies (including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon) promise to honor opt-outs for “interest-based” advertising. But while opting out stops companies from delivering targeted ads based on what you’ve clicked on, it does not stop ads based on general information such as your location or other details you may have volunteered while signing up for the account. Crucially, it doesn’t stop companies tracking you and collecting your data.

To prevent ads from showing at all, thus thwarting the purpose of tracking via third-party cookies or other means, try a plug-in such as AdBlock Plus (for Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer), which blocks “annoying” ads: video ads, Facebook ads, pop-ups and the like. By default, a whitelist of ads that fall under the developer’s guidelines for acceptability is allowed, but you can change this setting to disable all ads.

You can also add different filters to block more or different types of ads. For example, the anti-social filter blocks social media buttons from transmitting back to the mother ship that you were there, neatly avoiding the all-seeing Facebook eye.

AdBlock Plus also blocks trackers and websites known to deliver malware.

The downside

Blocking ads deprives sites of revenue, and many websites rely on ad revenue to stay afloat. Unless you tinker with the settings for which ads should be allowed at different sites (a process that may take a long time to complete), you may end up depriving your favorite sites of those caching clicks.

Search securely

Two-thirds of U.S. search traffic is made through Google, distantly followed by Microsoft’s Bing (19%) and Yahoo (10%). While Google’s search algorithms turn up highly relevant results for most of us (in May, 31% of all Internet traffic came from Google, versus less than 2% for Bing and Yahoo combined), there’s an additional trade-off: Search results are also personalized based on what you’ve clicked on in the past.

That may not seem like such a big deal until you consider that Google also combines your search history with other information from your Google accounts, such as YouTube and Gmail, for use in targeted ad campaigns. Search histories can reveal highly personal information such as your interests, religion or health issues, substantially filling out the information already compiled from your YouTube clicks and Gmail messages.

Instead of switching to another Big Three search engine, try DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t log your searches so that all users get the same results. In our test, searches for subjects including current events (“Hong Kong protests”), general knowledge (“why is the sky blue”) and straightforward subjects (Halloween costumes), helpful links turned up in the first half of the page. However, when we typed the more ambiguous phrase “Tuscany fall cuisine,” only Google noted that we wanted autumnal food in Italy, not the town called Tuscany Falls.

DuckDuckGo also offers many of the same convenience features as Google, including a good range of “zero-click info.” For example, type “weather in California,” “650 USD in EUR” or any calculator function such as “square root of 60,” and the answer is displayed above a list of link results.

Similarly privacy-centric search providers include Ixquick, which doesn’t store your IP address or search data (and consequently doesn’t sell any of your information), delivering results based on what the five major search engines are saying. Two or more stars indicate multiple search engines have relayed the same result. However, Ixquick lacks the uber-convenient zero-click search.

Finally, the Disconnect anti-tracker plug-in also has a separate search extension that anonymizes your searches in any of the Big Three search engines as well as DuckDuckGo itself.

The downside

Auto-complete in Google Search has been a godsend when it comes to typing searches for news and factoids you can’t quite recall. Not having a search history also means not having those purpled-out links that indicate at a glance which sites you’ve previously visited (handy when you’ve forgotten to bookmark a great source).

The all-in-one option

Not up to fine-tuning settings, cherry-picking plug-ins and switching to a new search engine?

Get a whole new browser. The Epic Browser offers privacy mode as the default and only option. Epic doesn’t store web histories, search queries or cookies. Clicking on a plug icon in the URL bar turns on a proxy feature that anonymizes your computer by routing your traffic through a U.S.-based proxy network.

Epic also blocks trackers with a handy pop-up telling you exactly how many it’s blocked — and just to rub its success in competitors’ noses, it shows how many trackers exist on the other browsers you’re using. On my computer, Firefox had 143 data-collecting trackers (including Amazon, Experian, all the social networks and a ton of ad providers); Safari had 56 (including BuzzFeed, LinkedIn and Tumblr); and my Chrome browser with Do Not Track Me Plus running let through just two (eBay and ad provider Double Click).

The downside

It’s back to the caveman days of manually typing everything in, from passwords to URLs. There’s no auto-fill feature for log-ins or website addresses, because Epic doesn’t store any history. Nor does Epic save passwords, and it doesn’t yet work with password managers, so you’ll either have to remember all your log-ins or save them on your hard drive.

Browsing completely anonymously (mostly)

All of the options we’ve discussed prevent third parties from tracking you within and across websites. However, the website can still see where you came from through your IP address, and that address could be used as an alternate means of tracking your activities. For example, a person or company who disagreed with your comments on a site could use your IP information to track you down and sue you for libel.

To hide your IP address from being uncovered, you will need to use either an anonymous web proxy or virtual private network (VPN) service. Both not only mask your IP address from the website you’re visiting, but will also prevent anyone who monitors your network (e.g., your employer) from monitoring the sites you’re visiting.

The downside

Some of these services have stronger privacy options than others, and many are still susceptible to disclosure if they receive a legal subpoena from the jurisdiction where they’re located. Read our article on VPNs and web proxies for more details.

Future tracking options

What we do online has value to companies now because of what we may buy if we’re shown the relevant advertising. Down the line, we might be the ones negotiating the worth of our web habits.

Encrypt your own web behavior

The Meeco app for iOS recently launched with the ability to log your web visits — where you visited and for how long — and save the traffic into an encrypted cloud accessible only by you. Websites can only see what you click on while you’re on them, not what you do after and before, preventing the site from building a profile of you. The software also analyzes your usage patterns so you can glean insight into your habits — the same insight brands buy from data brokers now. Eventually, the idea is to create a data framework where users can offer such data to brands in exchange for loyalty points, discounts or other incentives.

Founder and CEO Katryna Dow says an aim is to help people understand that the value of their data is invaluable — and, at the moment, immeasurable.

A Meeco browser extension for Chrome and Firefox is available in beta; currently, users must manually add favorite sites to the dashboard, then click them in order to launch the site in the browser’s (natively available) private window.

The downside

Right now, the browser extension does not save the traffic to your Meeco encrypted account (as the iOS app does), but Dow says the company is looking at including the feature in future updates.

Where to draw the privacy line

Being tracked and advertised to by the websites we use is the trade-off for a free Internet. In fact, there are some really good reasons for why you may want to be tracked online,

But not drawing our own line at how much privacy we are willing to give up could mean some companies will cross that line when it comes to where they scrape information about us. Your likes, dislikes and identifying details taken from email, private messages or personal notes could then be linked (as Google already does) to information from other facets of your online life, and companies or the government may eventually make assumptions about who you are before offering you a service. Whether you find that convenient or creepy, it’s something everyone should have control over, not default into.

What do you think? Have you downloaded browser plug-ins to control your privacy, or do you believe that targeted advertising is what makes the Internet go?

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Web

25% of Women Say They’ve Been Sexually Harassed Online

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Name calling and humiliation are pervasive, but stalking and sexual harassment disproportionately affect young women

Four out of 10 adults have experienced some form of online harassment, but some of the most alarming variants — stalking and sexual harassment — disproportionately affect upon young women, according to a Pew survey released Wednesday.

The survey breaks down online harassment into six categories, from name calling and humiliation to physical and sexual threats. The milder attacks crossed gender lines and occurred so pervasively that many respondents said they chose to ignore their attacker rather than engage or withdraw from the forum.

But beneath the white noise of insults, experiences varied dramatically depending on the respondents’ age and gender. Roughly one-quarter of women aged 18 to 24 said they have been stalked or sexually harassed online, making them visible stand-outs from an otherwise level field of insults.

PI_2014.10.22__online-harassment-02 2

The Pew survey also exposes deeper divides that can exact a greater emotional toll on Internet users. “Those who exclusively experience less severe forms of harassment report fewer emotional or personal impacts,” the study authors write, “while those with more severe harassment experiences often report more serious emotional tolls.” It lends empirical weight to the argument that there’s no comparing male and female harassment online.

 

TIME Web

Obama Signals Opposition to ‘Fast Lanes’ in Support of Net Neutrality

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks during an event at Cross Campus, on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, in Santa Monica, Calif. Evan Vucci—AP

"I think it is what has unleashed the power of the Internet and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes"

President Barack Obama reiterated his support for the principle known as net neutrality Thursday, signaling he would be opposed to the proposed Federal Communications plan to create a so-called Internet “fast-lanes.”

Speaking at a town hall at a technology co-working space in Santa Monica, Calif., Obama said a level playing field on the Internet was one of his earliest campaign promises. “On net neutrality, I made a commitment very early on that I am unequivocally committed to net neutrality,” Obama said, earning a round of applause from the tech-minded crowd. “I think it is what has unleashed the power of the Internet and we don’t want to lose that or clog up the pipes.”

“I know that one of the things people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that somehow some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers through the Internet: that is something I’m opposed to,” Obama said. “I was opposed to it when I ran and I continue to be opposed to it now.”

The FCC proposal would require Internet service providers to maintain a baseline of service, but would allow some companies to pay for preferential service, creating a two-tiered Internet that essentially undermines the premise of net neutrality. The issue has stretched thin a 2008 campaign promise Obama made when he said, “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality.”

Though Obama pledged that the issue would be front-and-center on his mind when nominating commissioners to the regulating agency, the current controversial proposal had the backing of three commissioners he appointed, including chairman Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the telecom industry.

Thursday’s remarks were the President’s most detailed comment on the issue of net neutrality since the FCC proposal was announced earlier this year. Obama did not specifically weigh in on the proposal, but said he expected the final rule to be consistent with his campaign promise.

“Now the FCC is an independent agency,” Obama said. “They came out with some preliminary rules that I think the netroots and a lot of folks in favor of net neutrality were concerned with. My appointee, Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can’t—now that he’s there, I can’t just call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I’ve been clear about, what the White House has been clear about, is that we expect that whatever final rules to emerge, to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine.”

TIME Web

The Humble GIF Is Getting a Big Upgrade

The GIF is dead, long live the GIF!

The once-lowly GIF, which has risen to become the dominant format for visual communication on the Web, is getting an upgrade. The photo-sharing website Imgur is introducing a new short-clip format called GIFV that it says is both higher in quality and smaller in size than traditional GIFs.

“The culture is way bigger than any specific file format,” Imgur CEO Alan Schaaf said about GIFs in a press release. “With Project GIFV, we wanted to preserve the experience of the GIF while optimizing it for all the changes that have happened on the Internet since the format was first introduced in 1987.”

GIFs posted to Imgur will now be automatically converted to the MP4 format, which the company is branding as the “GIFV” file extension. The new videos will loop just like regular GIFs, but they’ll have a higher image quality while boasting a smaller file size. The change should help Imgur images load faster on mobile devices. It will also allow the company to raise the file size limit for GIF uploads from 5 MB to 50 MB (here’s a regular 5MB GIF compared to a 5o MB GIF converted to the new GIFV format).

Even web users that don’t frequent Imgur.com will benefit from the change. 1.5 million images are uploaded to Imgur each day, and many of them rapidly spread to blogs, social media platforms and news websites.

TIME Diversions

404 Forever: 10 of the Web’s Best Error Pages

When you've fat-fingered your way to a page that doesn't exist, the tried and true 404 is there to greet you. In no particular order, here are some of the funniest, most addictive and most creative around.

Sad Server

ACM

Man, this web server is a sad, sad sack. It goes on and on and on, at times blaming itself and at times blaming you for expecting too much of it. Buck up!

Link

404 Pac-Man

Blue Fountain Media

I shouldn’t be saying this, but this is the best 404 page on this list. You could click away to some other site now. It kills our time-on-site stats, but I’m just trying to shoot you straight. This error page lets you play Pac-Man inside a giant 404-shaped level. I found it to be more fun than the standard Pac-Man level, even.

Link

Underground Error

BlueDaniel

This one’s definitely elaborate and artsy. Wait for the subway car to show up, then click on one of the open doorways to climb aboard. Once inside, you’re treated to a sleeping passenger and a girl who likes to take photos of stuff. It feels like a scene in a ’90s-era full-motion adventure game.

Link

Screaming Goat

Bluegg

This goat is upset that it’s reached an error page. It shows its frustration by screaming like a human. Then the whole scene repeats itself. You’ll laugh at the scream more than once, assuming you find it funny the first time. Disclosure: I found it funny the first time.

Link

Lloyd Christmas Can’t Believe What He’s Seeing

Codeo

No! No, no, no, no, no!!!

Link

Bubble Pop

Hot Dot

This error page features a tiltable 404 made of luminescent, bubble-like circles. Click on a section of one of the numbers and watch a bunch of the circles go flying, only to repopulate moments later. You can get trapped here for a while if you’re not careful.

Link

Yes, Exactly

Kvartirakrasivo

Can’t read what this error page says? Who cares?! Something’s gone haywire, and the two stick figure construction dudes respond by dancing. With a page title like “Ooopps… 404″ and its jibbly-yup-yup (new term!) music, this is the most wonderfully weird error page on the list.

Link

Newman!

Nouveller

An homage to Jurassic Park‘s famous hacking scene, here’s Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight in real life — arguably most well-known as Newman on Seinfeld) scolding you for touching his keyboard. Hint: type “reboot system” three times to get things moving.

Link

This Could Go On For Days

Tripomatic

This travel site’s 404 page features a soothing, endlessly watchable sunrise-sunset-moonrise loop that delicately blends background hues together, bringing out the stars at night and blue skies during the day.

Link

Can I Leave Now?

visitsteve

Appropriately titled “The Most Awkward 404 Not Found Page on the Internet,” artist Steve Lambert’s error page features an excruciatingly long video of him explaining that you don’t have to hang around the error page if you don’t feel like it. Bonus points if you watch the whole thing. I did.

Link

Honorable Mentions

More Like Homestar Ruiner

Z - Homestar

Though not technically a 404 page, this Homestar Runner cartoon about the site crashing has aged well after all these years. The site does have an actual 404 page, which you can find here.

Link

“We’ve Got Motion!”

And last but certainly not least, the video embedded in this 404 page for Nosh.com’s site is no longer working (irony!), but the original (embedded above) that used to play there is truly outstanding.

Link

TIME legal

Marriott Fined $600K for Jamming Guest’s Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots

Wifi Cloud Tablet
Getty Images

My smartphone is indispensable whenever I travel for work. It’s a great tool for keeping in contact. And thanks to its mobile hotspot feature, it’s become indispensable for filing stories when Wi-Fi is either unavailable or – as is often the case at many major hotels – prohibitively expensive.

But as much as I love my mobile hotspot, it would appear hotel operators feel differently about the technology. This past week, the Marriott International corporation was fined a whopping $600,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for using a jamming system to prevent its customers from using their own mobile hotspots. It then charged these frustrated customers as much as $1,000 per day per device for Internet access – a price that borders on extortion.

According to the FCC, Marriott admitted to using a jammer in at least one of its hotels, the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. Employees there reportedly used a Wi-Fi monitoring system to locate guest-created hotspots and send them de-authentication packets, forcibly disconnecting and disrupting Internet service. Those visiting the hotel’s conference space were especially frequent targets of the scheme, forcing those who needed to connect to agree to the hotel’s exorbitant $250 to $1,000 per device hotel Wi-Fi prices.

“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” stated FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging customers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

Marriott, for its part, attempted to defend its actions with the laughable notion it was done in the interest of its guests’ safety. “Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft,” the company wrote in a statement. “We believe that the Gaylord Opryland’s actions were lawful.”

While public Wi-Fi hotspots can be home to various threats, creating and connecting to your own password-protected mobile hotspot is absolutely safe. You can turn your iPhone into a mobile hotspot by entering the Settings app, tapping Personal Hotspot and turning the toggle on. You can activate your Android phone as a mobile hotspot by opening its App Tray, selecting Mobile Hotspot and checking the box. Note that you’ll need a compatible cellular data plan to get this to work – those on current AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile plans have hotspot functionality included for free; those with older unlimited data plans are blocked from using it. Also note that using your phone as a hotspot will eat into your data plan allowance. Other carriers, like Sprint, will let you activate your phone as a mobile hotspot for an additional monthly fee.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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How to Take Free Courses from Top Universities

Online Courses
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You can continue your education with some amazing and free online resources available from top universities. These institutions offer many of their courses in the form of video lectures, audio transcripts and online quizzes. And some universities give you access to the professor and let you interact with other students taking the class.

Want to give these free online courses a try? Here are the online education offerings from the top U.S. universities that we think are worth checking out.

Stanford Free Courses

Stanford University, located in Stanford, California, offers an especially rich bounty of material for its amateur online learners. Classes are offered on multiple platforms, letting you watch videos lectures, participate in discussion forums and chats, complete quizzes and even participate in group projects. A wide range of courses are available, from Cryptography to Game Theory to Writing in the Sciences. There are courses on stock market investing and running your own business, too – stuff that you can actually use to benefit your family. Self-paced courses are also available, including the popular Computer Science 101. You can check out Stanford’s collection of online courses by visiting online.stanford.edu/courses.

Webcast.Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is one of America’s most esteemed public universities. So, as you might expect, its online course catalog is one of the most serious of the bunch. You’ll find multiple webcasts on biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, history, health, political science, sociology and statistics. You won’t be able to take tests or raise your hand in class, but you can audit every lecture in HD on YouTube. UC Berkeley’s catalog of webcast courses is available for review and viewing at webcast.berkeley.edu.

MIT OpenCourseWare

Looking to live out your Good Will Hunting fantasies? Then check out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseWare system. There, you’ll find video and audio lectures from the top-ranked engineering school. You’ll also be able to access notes, digital assessments and even free online textbooks. Not every class at MIT offers these materials, but the Course Finder tool will let you easily sort the catalog to find those that do. You can view MIT’s searchable wealth of online course materials and lectures at ocw.mit.edu.

Duke University

North Carolina’s Duke University offers a number of interactive, free online courses through the Coursera platform. Lectures in subjects like English Composition and Genetics are offered, with videos broken up into easily digestible YouTube clips; some courses offer online assessments as well. Online learners get to interact with other students and teachers via online message boards and discussion groups, furthering your understanding of the material. To take a look at Duke’s free online course offerings and register for classes, visit coursera.org/duke. You can find plenty of other universities and classes available on Coursera as well.

Harvard Open Courses

World-famous Harvard University teamed up with nearby MIT to create the edX learning platform, which currently offers 42 of its classes for free online. Many of these classes on edX, like Introduction to Computer Science, are self-guided and ready to start anytime you’re are. Others, like AnatomyX, run on a fixed schedule. Some even offer college credit through the Harvard Extension School for a fee; otherwise, completion earns you a nifty free “Honor Code” certificate. You can browse Harvard’s online course listing at edx.org/school/harvardx. (Don’t forget to check out what other schools are offering on the free platform, as well.)

UCLA Free Lecture Webcasts

The University of California, Los Angeles, like UC Berkeley, offers a wealth of class experiences for free online on YouTube. Courses are organized into playlists, so you can watch lectures from courses like Sustainable Living, Modern Civilization 1750 – Present and Probability for Math Science on your own schedule. You should also keep an eye on the UCLA Extension School, which periodically offers free (albeit brief) online classes complete with discussion boards.

Open Yale Courses

Yale, one of the our nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning, offers a limited-albeit-highbrow selection of courses for free online auditing. You can challenge yourself by taking Philosophy and Science of Human Nature, expand your horizons with Listening to Music, or try to get a better understanding of your 401(k) by taking Financial Markets. Courses are available on Coursera, through YouTube and on iTunes through Apple’s iTunes U free learning platform.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon currently offers 21 open and free courses via its Open Learning Initiative (OLI) platform. You can take scientific courses like Biochemistry and Modern Biology if that’s your thing, or plan your vacation to Paris while taking Elementary French I and II. OLI makes it easy to track your progress (with sign-in), while “targeted feedback” and online assignments give you an idea of how well you’re absorbing the material. You can browse what Carnegie Mellon’s OLI has to offer at oli.cmu.edu.

iTunes U

Okay, so maybe this one isn’t an actual college. Still, if your hunger for knowledge knows no bounds, you’ll definitely need to check out Apple’s iTunes U application. Inside, you’ll be connected to thousands of free course offerings from schools all around the globe. iTunes U offers tools to start discussions and ask questions of teachers and students. And since everything is rated on a five-star system, you’ll be able to easily hunt down the best courses in the subjects most interesting to you. You can download iTunes U onto your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch through the Apple App Store.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Web

FTC Mandates Refunds for Online Backorders Over 30 Days

Online Shopping
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By now, most everyone has an e-retail horror story.

Mine happened several years ago when I ordered a sale priced flat-screen TV from a major tech website. My credit card was charged immediately when I placed the order, but the television never shipped. It was still back ordered months later, and every time I checked back in with the unhelpful seller, there was no new delivery date in sight. Only after I challenged the charge on my credit card statement did the website finally relent and agree to refund my money and the interest charges that accumulated while waiting.

Thankfully, these kinds of horror stories will soon be a thing of the past. This week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced new rules regarding the timeliness of fulfilling online orders. In short, if a website cannot put an item in your hands in 30 days, it needs to offer you a refund. The FTC writes (PDF):

The Rule prohibits sellers from soliciting mail, Internet, or telephone order sales unless they have a reasonable basis to expect that they can ship the ordered merchandise within the time stated on the solicitation or, if no time is stated, within 30 days. The Rule further requires a seller to seek the buyer’s consent to the delayed shipment when the seller learns that it cannot ship within the time stated or, if no time is stated, within 30 days. If the buyer does not consent, the seller must promptly refund all money paid for the unshipped merchandise.

The new rule is slated to go into effect on December 8, which is good news for those of us planning on doing our holiday shopping online this year. Similar rules have existed for mail orders since 1975 and for telephone orders since 1993. You can read the full details of the updated Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule by visiting www.ftc.gov.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Web

Net Neutrality Advocates Make Last FCC Push as Comment Window Closes

Net Neutrality Video Billboard Outside FCC
Namecheap

The Commission's proposed rule for "fast lanes" on the Internet that would cost extra has generated millions of comments since July

Net neutrality advocates mounted a large video billboard outside Federal Communications Commission headquarters Monday, on the last day for public comment on the Commission’s proposed Internet regulations. The laws, if approved, would allows Internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to create “fast lanes” that users can pay extra to access, thus violating the principle of net neutrality.

The billboard will play user-submitted videos from net neutrality rallies from major U.S. cities, along with users’ webcam appeals on why they believe net neutrality is important, according to Fight for the Future, an Internet advocacy group that worked with domain registrar Namecheap to set up the display.

The FCC’s window for input on the proposed law opened on July 15 and has since generated millions of comments. The FCC has not yet set a date to vote on new rules, and does not face a deadline, according to Bloomberg.

Recent analyses have indicated that most Internet users support net neutrality. A report by the Sunlight Foundation analyzed the public comments collected by the FCC to show that less than 1% of comments clearly opposed net neutrality. Another survey found that two-thirds of Americans are opposed to Internet “fast lanes.”

Meanwhile, net neutrality activism has recently hit its stride with visible success: most recently, a phone campaign to Congress members, public relations campaigns by Internet businesses and politicians, and virtual demonstration by popular websites.

TIME social

Facebook Is Testing Disappearing Status Updates

Wish that the status updates you want to share on Facebook weren’t so permanent? Soon, you may be able to make your posts on the social network vanish without a trace – after a set period of time of your choosing, of course. Similar to popular self-destructing message app SnapChat, your Facebook messages may soon have a limited lifespan of your choosing.

As reported by TheNextWeb, Facebook has begun rolling out these temporary status updates to a select group of users of its iOS smartphone app. Those who have access to the feature can select “expiration” times ranging from one hour to seven days. So if you want to talk about a TV episode, for example, you can have your discussion automatically disappear from your Timeline after it stops being relevant. That means less clutter and more focus on the more important events in your life that you have shared.

There’s always a catch with Facebook, though. The one here is that even though your messages can disappear in as soon as an hour, they’ll remain on the Facebook servers. And any information you share will likely still be mined for advertising data, so there’s that to consider when posting, too. Remember that anything you share on Facebook reveals a little bit more about your lifestyle, buying habits and interests.

If you don’t have access to the feature yet, you’ll have to be patient: Vanishing messages are only available as a “small pilot” program, according to Facebook, and only for iPhone, iPod and iPad app users. Still, if it proves both useful and successful, we could all see the functionality soon. Want to learn more about using Facebook? Check out these 5 biggest Facebook mistakes people make, then read up on social network etiquette. And be sure not to miss Techlicious’ updated guide to Facebook privacy settings.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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