TIME Video Games

The 5 Best PlayStation 4 Games Right Now

The essential video game checklist for new PlayStation 4 owners

So you just picked up a PlayStation 4, and you’re wondering what to buy. Or maybe you haven’t bought one yet, but you’re leaning in Sony’s general direction. Either way, we think these are hands-down the best games on platform at the moment.

  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

    Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s Caribbean setting is sun-dappled, tropical and thoroughly tattooed, a sultry archipelago of jungle-scapes, cerulean skies and grizzled buccaneers. You’re a pirate neophyte as the game begins, rising through the pirate echelons, rubbing elbows with everyone from Blackbeard to Anne Bonny, working to hammer out a kind of egalitarianism that’s often overlooked in Hollywood’s rush to mythologize pirates as unshowered, bloodthirsty, money-grubbing mercenaries preying on the weak like peg-legged sociopaths.

    Buy this game if… You like pirates, boats, sneaking around and scaling everything in sight, light naval and economic simulations, alternate history tales slathered with cabalistic conspiracies, ginormous open-worlds with gobs of collection-oriented side activities, a literal archipelago of elaborate locales to survey, and a central story you can engage at your own pace, whether chewing through missions one after another, or ignoring them entirely.

    Steer clear if… You don’t like open-ended games or having to travel vast distances to make things happen, have no interest in the particulars of naval combat, find scads of collection quests repetitive, don’t like pirates or early 18th century settings, expect hand-to-hand combat that evolves and challenges, and hate having to slink through the shadows.

    What critics said: “…great fun when you let your impulses guide you” (Game Informer); “…the most generous Assassin’s Creed game to date” (Edge); “…an incredible scope to what you can do” (GameSpot).

    ESRB Rating: Mature

  • Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn

    Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn arrived for PlayStation 3 and Windows last September, and after some early launch problems with glitchy servers, it settled into a kind of groove. It’s been humming along since: a lavish fantasy universe with scads of Final Fantasy-ish things to tangle with, craft and explore. The PlayStation 4 version includes the same content, but with vastly prettier versions of things to look at, and the subscription fee (after the 30-day trail period) remains the same: $12.99 a month, after the cost of the game itself.

    Buy this game if… You don’t mind (or actually like) the idea of playing one with a gamepad, you’re in the mood to pick through a mammoth fantasy sandbox, you enjoy the Final Fantasy games (or just different stylistic takes on Western fantasy tropes), or you want to play the best version of this game on a console (and for that matter, the best MMO on any console).

    Steer clear if… You don’t like MMOs, don’t like fantasy settings, or don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee.

    What critics said: “My favorite MMO since World of Warcraft” (Destructoid); “…one of the biggest reversals in fortune we’ve seen for a game” (Gameplanet); “the best venue to experience the staggering world” (GameSpot).

    ESRB Rating: Teen

  • Flower

    What would you do if you were the wind? The dream of a potted plant on an urban windowsill? Don’t worry, Flower isn’t a tedious philosophical treatise on the nature of reality, but as you twist the PlayStation 4’s motion-sensing gamepad to maneuver dancing petals through oceans of grass, stone rings, steel girders, windmills, striated caverns and pallid cityscapes, you may find yourself contemplating whether you’re playing a game, or involved in a form of interactive meditation.

    Buy this game if… You want to try something genuinely different, you enjoy environmental puzzles, you love immersing yourself in beautiful and uniquely imagined virtual worlds.

    Steer clear if… You tend to rush through games (in which case Flower may seem brief).

    What critics said: “…has the power to change the way that you look at the outside world” (Push Square); “…like rediscovering an old friend” (USgamer); “…there’s no prettier way to inaugurate your new console” (Hardcore Gamer).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

  • The Last of Us Remastered

    Developer Naughty Dog’s original PlayStation 3 tale of a horror-numbed survivor escorting a young girl through a broken zombie-filled near-future world won the 2013’s Writers Guild of America award (“Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing”), an Annie (“Best Animated Video Game”) and a Game Developer’s Choice Award (“Game of the Year”). The PlayStation 4 version is simply the original version remastered, but with all the additional content.

    Buy this game if… You appreciate finely crafted storytelling, you love tenterhooks survival horror games with light stealth elements and a dash of third-person shooting, or you just want to experience one of the finest explorations of the way a relationship can work in an interactive game.

    Steer clear if… You scare easily.

    What critics said: “..the version of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic story of survival that the developer always intended us to play” (EGM); “…a fabulous story, riffing on Cormac McCarthy and other bleak post-apocalyptic fiction” (Telegraph); “…the definitive edition of an already outstanding affair” (Push Square).

    ESRB Rating: Mature

  • Resogun

    Imagine a side-scrolling shoot-em-up (shmup), only the levels fold around until the ends touch, turning the game into a cylinder you can vector across either left or right. The object of the game is to free and save tiny retro-stick-figure humans, powering up your ship and executing special attacks that include a kind of battle-ram maneuver that lets you arrow through waves of enemies, annihilating them without destroying yourself.

    Buy this game if… You love shmups (this is one of the best), you love uniquely convoluted shmups with gorgeous retro-particle animations and effects, you want the option to play a shmup on a difficulty setting that’ll be the challenge of your life.

    Steer clear if… Twitchy, punishing shooting games aren’t your thing.

    What critics said: “…an eye-searing blur of a loop” (Destructoid); “…brilliant stuff, always thrilling and constantly rewarding” (Telegraph); “stands as one of the best ways to be introduced to the recently launched PlayStation 4″ (EGM).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+

TIME Video Games

Felicia Day Writes About #GamerGate, Gets Information Hacked

"Supernatural" Celebrates 200 Episodes
Actress Felicia Day celebrates the 200th episode of 'Supernatural' at Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel on October 18, 2014 in Vancouver, Canada. Andrew Chin—Getty Images

"Games are worth fighting for, even if the atmosphere is ugly right now"

Supernatural actress and avid gamer Felicia Day took to her Tumblr to talk about #GamerGate on Thursday and, perhaps unsurprisingly, was immediately harassed. Though #GamerGaters claim that they are policing ethics in gaming journalism, a small but loud subset of the group has lobbed misogynistic threats at women who play, create and critique games, some even making threats of murder and rape. (Here’s an explainer.)

“A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that [two male gamers I was passing on the street] and I might not be comrades after all,” wrote Day. “That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.”

Day was moved to write on the subject after feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian came under attack. Sarkeesian, who makes videos examining misogynist tropes in video games, had to flee her home because of violent threats. Then, a week ago, she was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University after an anonymous person sent a letter to the school administration threatening to massacre students if she spoke.

“I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America,” the letter read. Sarkeesian is just one of the many women targeted by #GamerGate: game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn have also had to leave their homes due to threats.

“Because of the frightening emotions and actions attached to what has happened over the last month, the events are sure to have a long-lasting affect on gaming as a culture,” Day wrote. “The fact that it has affected me, to the point where I decided to cross the street last weekend away from those gamers, was heartbreaking. Because I realized my silence on the issue was not motivated by some grand strategy, but out of fear that the issue has created about speaking out.”

But she encouraged everyone to continue gaming, even if they are harassed: “Games are beautiful, they are creative, they are worlds to immerse yourself in. They are art. And they are worth fighting for, even if the atmosphere is ugly right now.”

Just an hour after writing the post, Day was doxxed (i.e., had her private or identifying information published with malicious intent). Former NFL player Chris Kluwe pointed out the inherent sexism in the fact that #GamerGate doxxed Day but did not make his information public, even though he wrote his own post calling GamerGaters “basement-dwelling, cheetos-huffing, poopsock-sniffing douchepistols,” among dozens of other equally creative insults.

In his post, Kluwe called for #GamerGaters who disagreed with these misogynistic attacks to distance themselves from those making sexist threats by starting a new hashtag movement and condemning the old one.

Day tweeted Thursday afternoon to thank fans, feminists and gamers for their support as she has come under attack:

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TIME Companies

Nike CEO Hints at Apple Collaboration

The athletic brand and tech giant may come together in the near future

For those looking for wearable tech that’s significantly less nerdy than Google Glass and the Apple Watch, you may not be looking for long.

TIME Apple

Apple Just Passed a Massive Milestone

Consumers Shop At An Apple Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Michael Nagle—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The news of its massive quarter has finally settled in

It took a few days, but Apple’s blow-out quarterly earnings report — driven by strong iPhone and Mac sales and bolstered by the largest stock repurchase program in the history of capitalism — has finally made its way through Wall Street’s algorithms and into Apple’s share price.

The stock closed Thursday at $104.83, up 1.8% for the day, 7.2% for the week and 50% from April 2013, the cruelest month, when it dipped into the high 300s.

Speculators who bought a lot of calls in September 2012, when Apple was approaching an intraday high of $705.07 ($100.72 post-split), will never get their money back.

But investors who held on to their shares through the rout of 2012 and 2013 are back in the green.

Apple is now not only the world’s most valuable public company, but it has left the nearest contenders in the dust. The top four market caps:

Apple: $617.9 billion
Exxon: $401.4 billion
Microsoft $371.0 billion
Google $369.0 billion

TIME Video Games

Assassin’s Creed Unity Wants to Bodyslam Your PC

Ubisoft just unveiled the PC minimum and recommended specs for its upcoming open-world stealth game set during the French Revolution.

I noticed a rumor about this on Reddit earlier, and wondered if it might be someone trolling, but no: The minimum requirements to play Assassin’s Creed Unity on a PC are indeed going to cost a lot of PC owners a pile of cash paid in upgrades to play. The full list is below.

It’s mostly the required GPU spec that has heads turning: an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970. That’s the sort of thing you’d normally see (still, these days) listed as the recommended power level. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, by comparison, only required a GTX 260 and HD 4870, and even the recommended GPUs were a mere GTX 470 and HD 5850.

To play with everything turned up in Unity, Ubisoft’s recommending a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290X. Those cards aren’t first-timers in the recommended box; it’s the relative narrowness of the gap between minimum and recommended that’s unusual here. Ubisoft says it’s only supporting the GTX 680 or better, GTX 700 series, AMD Radeon HD 7970 or better and the Radeon R9 series. The company notes “Laptop versions of these cards may work but are NOT officially supported.”

I’m not surprised. Ubisoft can’t even get the game running at 1080p on Sony’s PlayStation 4 (it’ll be 900p on both current-gen consoles), so expecting the PC minimum specs to register at current averages was probably wishful thinking.

The upside, if you have the horsepower to make it happen, is that PC owners stand to have the best experience possible, since there’s no resolution ceiling on the PC version of the game.

If you want a reminder why the game’s putting crazy wrestling moves on your hardware (and wallet), here’s the latest “experience” trailer, highlighting Ubisoft’s open-world rendition of 18th century Paris.

Required

  • 64-bit Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8/8.1
  • Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz, AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0 GHz or AMD Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz
  • 6 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970 (2 GB VRAM)
  • DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card with latest drivers
  • 50GB storage space
  • Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse required, optional controller
  • 256 Kbps or faster broadband connection

Recommended

  • Intel Core I7-3770 @ 3.4 GHz or AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0 GHz or better
  • 8 GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290X (3 GB VRAM)
TIME apps

10 Apps to Get Right Now For Your New iPad

Got a new iPad? Get these apps.

Slimmer, lighter, and not as reflective, the new iPad Air 2 is more than just a looker — under the glass there’s a beefed up processor, more powerful camera and Touch ID, to name a few upgrades.

Get the most out of your new Apple tablet with these 10 great apps.

  • 1Password

    With Touch ID sensors on the new iPads, Apple’s tablet becomes much more secure. But outside using your fingerprint to unlock the device or buy apps, your personal information is still only as safe as your passwords. 1Password stores your passwords remotely and even recommends tough-to-crack randomized ones.

    While the service isn’t new, as of iOS 8, it can be opened using the Touch ID sensor, making for one less password to remember (or forget).

    1Password is available for free in the App Store.

  • 80 Days

    80 Days App Store

    Combining the educational gaming of Carmen Sandiego with the urgency of The Amazing Race, this interactive novel-like adventure game is stylish and fun. The object? Transport Mr. Phineas Fogg across the globe in 80 days, using all manner of steampunk and conventional transport to traverse the more than 150 cities, all while solving puzzles along the way.

    While not a processor-crunching title, its chic graphics look smooth and seamless on the new Air.

    80 Days is available for $4.99 in the App Store.

  • Adobe Shape CC

    Time to put the myth that iPads are for consuming, not creating, to pasture. This whip-smart app lets users snap photos and convert the shapes in the images to vector-based objects. Once the domain of Adobe’s expensive Illustrator and Photoshop desktop programs, this app can turn anyone with an eye into a designer or graphic artist.

    Adobe Shape CC is available for free in the App Store.

  • Fancy

    Itching to get your fingers on Apple Pay? Got $250 to burn on a Scarface Action Figure? If yes to both, this social-shopping app is your soul mate. Just set up your credit card with Apple’s new Touch ID-operated payment system, and a pop-up hot dog toaster, a deck of wooden playing cards, or a wall-mounted fishbowl could be on your doorstep, with only a thumbs-up to your iPad’s home button.

    Fancy is available for free in the App Store.

  • Houzz

    Houzz App Store

    The new iPad’s autumn launch gets it in shoppers’ hands just in time for nesting season. Home design inspiration and shopping app Houzz is also Apple Pay-enabled, which means users will have an easy time snapping up everything from bar carts to bath towels. And unlike the Restoration Hardware catalog, the iPad Air is getting thinner and easier to carry, which makes this app great for snuggling up with on idea sessions.

    Houzz is available for free in the App Store.

  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

    Like the Peanuts gang itself, this app is an oldie, but a goodie. An interactive book voiced by the actor who played Linus, it’s the timeless Charles Schulz tale of the Great Pumpkin, who every year rises out of whichever pumpkin patch he thinks most sincere. Now before you think Charlie Brown has “gone commercial” with this app, stop being a blockhead and think how much fun it is to flick, spin, and fling the pop-up book-type elements. It’s a great annual read for kids and adults alike, and already set to be downloaded when your new iPad arrives.

    It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is available for $5.99 in the App Store.

  • Modern Combat 5: Blackout

    Modern Combat App Store

    Once just a blank slate where casual games spun on aimlessly, the iPad has evolved into a platform where high-powered shooters, simulators, and brawlers tear up the screen. This first-person situational shooter lets users play multiplayer or in a mission-based story mode with stunning worldwide settings.

    On the new iPad, with its A8X processor, the game — one of the earliest programmed using Apple’s graphics-maximizing Metal API — has detail and speed not available on any other Apple or Android device.

    Modern Combat 5: Blackout is available for $6.99 in the App Store.

  • Next Issue

    Next Issue App Store

    With apologies to this website, the best way to enjoy a magazine is still in well-designed page layouts, and that’s where the recently updated Next Issue app shines. A monthly subscription-based service that delivers more than 140 publications straight to your tablet, this Netflix for magazines looks better than ever on iPad Air 2’s 9.7-inch display, thanks to the tablet’s new antireflective coating.

    In addition, the Air’s screen is just one sheet of glass, unlike previous iPads, which had three layers, making the new model brighter and more vibrant—perfect for taking in fantastic magazine layouts.

    Next Issue requires a subscription, but the app is available for free in the App Store.

  • Pixelmator

    Though not yet available on the iPad, this powerful image editing app was previewed at the iPad Air 2 launch, and its jaw-dropping visuals make it worth waiting for. A layer-based photo editor, Pixelmator gives users professional level graphic abilities on a tablet, the same tools available on the desktop version of the app. With the Air’s beefier processor, it handles 4K resolution images with ease. And it can even use iOS’s Handoff feature to let users work on files either on the iPad or on a Mac desktop or laptop.

    Pixelmator will be available soon for $4.99 in the App Store soon.

  • Replay Video Editor

    Another app demonstrated at the iPad’s launch, this movie-making tool takes the pain and patience out of producing fun personal movies. Programmed using Apple’s Metal API, it hauls when running on the new iPad’s faster processor. Just select some photos and/or video clips, choose a theme with graphics, and tap. Less than a second later, all the media is stitched together, rendered and ready to be shared, making sharing vacation videos almost as fun as going on the trip itself. Almost.

    Replay Video Editor is available for free in the App Store.

TIME Social Media

Facebook Launches Anonymous Chat App Called ‘Rooms’

Rooms Facebook

The app allows people to form invite-only chat rooms based on common interests

Facebook launched Thursday an anonymous chat room app called Rooms, the latest creation to emerge from the company’s initiative to design more apps connecting people in different ways.

The free app, now available in the App Store, allows users to create chat rooms for shared interests, from makeup mastery to city gardens, according to the app’s website. The app is entirely separate from Facebook and doesn’t require you to provide any revealing details like your name or your location.

Chat rooms are invite-only and require a special code that can be scanned with your phone’s camera, according to Facebook. Codes can be shared on social media, e-mail or even posted on paper in public spaces. Chat room creators or other specified moderators can customize the look, ban people from the room or set the room to be 18+.

Rooms’ development was first reported by the New York Times in early October as an alternative way to connect online aside from the many social media networks, like Facebook, which value or require authentic identities as a means of combating spammers, trolls and cyberbullies. However, Facebook’s real name policy has forced out some users, notably members of the LGBT community who prefer to stay anonymous online. A recent flight of transgender users from Facebook to alternative networks like Ello drew headlines several weeks ago.

Rooms joins a host of other secondary apps recently created by Facebook, including Mentions, a Facebook for celebrities and other public figures released in July; Slingshot, a Snapchat-like service released in June; and Paper, a Facebook app simplified for a mobile device released in February.

TIME Apps & Web

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

Privacy
Getty Images

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 Healthcare

Need Your Flu Shot? Just Call an Uber

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In this photo illustration the new smart phone taxi app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location next to a taxi lane on October 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

The one-day program is available in three U.S. cities

Uber on Thursday launched a one-day pilot program to deliver free flu shots and flu prevention packs in three major U.S. cities.

The UberHEALTH service will be available only Thursday in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, according to Uber’s blog. The service can be requested while ordering a ride on the Uber app, after which a registered nurse will administer flu shots and distribute materials for up to 10 people at no additional cost.

The free flu shot service, which is a partner project with Vaccine Finder, is only the latest of Uber’s limited time specials. Uber has previously rolled out delivery services for air conditioners and diapers, and even its own Optimus Prime.

 

TIME Companies

Ad-Free Social Network Ello Gets $5.5 Million in Funding

US-IT-INTERNET-MEDIA-ELLO
The Ello website is seen on the monitor screen September 27, 2014 in Washington D.C. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

Company promises it will never sell ads or user data

The burgeoning social network Ello has raised $5.5 million in a new round of venture funding, it was revealed Thursday. The buzzy startup gained widespread attention in September thanks to its manifesto decrying social media companies’ habit of gathering and monetizing user data.

“Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.” the manifesto reads. “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life.”

Ello is putting some legal muscle behind its lofty rhetoric by reincorporating as a public benefit corporation in Delaware. The company will vow in its new legal charter that it will never sell user data or advertising, according to The New York Times. The company plans to make money by charging users for extra, as-yet-unspecified features.

Though Ello has been around since summer, the site exploded in popularity last month after Facebook began kicking drag queens off its site because they were not using their legal names, leading some of those users to relocate to Ello. The small social network leapt from 90 users in early August to more than 1 million today, according to the Times. Facebook has since apologized for how its real name policy affected the LGBT community and others.

The funding round was led by Foundry Group, based in Boulder, Colo.

[Re/code]

 

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