A web browser can collect a lot of information about you. As the tool most used to browse the Internet, they can track the sites you visit, how long you spent on them, which links you clicked on or purchases you made, and much more. Choosing the right web browser is, therefore, an important consideration when trying to improve your online privacy.
Ideally, you should choose a web browser which blocks all trackers by default, or at least, allows you to easily configure it do so. It should also put you in control of your private data, letting you decide the level of information you would like to share with a website. Of course, it should also be fast, and ideally easy to use.
With all these requirements it can be difficult to choose the right web browser to use. In this article, I will share some good examples of privacy respecting web browsers you can start to use today.
brave browser was introduced in 2016 by Brandon Eich (formerly worked for Mozilla). It is fast, secure, and privacy-focused by default. It’s built on top of Chromium, so will probably feel familiar to current Google Chrome users, making switching fairly easy.
Unlike Chrome, Brave does not collect data about your online activities, and clearing browsing data is an easy process.
Out of the box, it has built-in ad, tracker and malware blocking, and can be configured to provide fingerprinting protection (a topic for another post), but essentially makes users appear subtly different to each website.
For anyone into Cryptocurrency, Brave incorporates it’s own (BAT tokens), which enables you to anonymously reward the websites you visit most (can be switched off).
There have been a few reported issues with the browser, however, these do not appear to have affected user privacy. The main criticism of Brave has been the introduction of it’s own ad program, launched in April 2019. For many, this seems like a strange feature to include, for a browser which prides it’s self on blocking ads.
Link to Brave browser
Chromium is an open source web browser which enables google tracking by default.
Ungoogled Chromium, as the name suggests, is designed as a drop-in replacement for Chromium, minus the google content. The browser retains the default Chromium experience as closely as possible, whilst removing all google tracking features. In addition, it also implements some useful features such as enforcing HTTPS (secure traffic) by default, and forcing all pop ups into tabs.
Unlike other browsers, such as Brave, Ungoogled Chromium does not have ad and tracking blocking enabled by default, although this can be implemented using extensions and settings.
As a web browser, it is not particularly user friendly, and does’t auto update the browser or installed extensions (which is a good thing). This does, however, mean the user has to manually maintain these, making it a better option for advanced users.
Link to Ungoogled Chromium
Iridium browser is another secure browser based on the Chromium project, the same project Google Chrome is built on. It is backed by the Open Source Business Alliance, which according to Iridium, has around 190 members.
Since Iridium is built on Chromium, it provides support for Chrome extensions and receives regular updates and releases. The source code, however, has been modified to respect user privacy.
The browser blocks the transmission of partial queries, keywords and metrics to other web services, however, this can be enabled by the user should they wish.
Link to Iridium browser
Firefox browser was first introduced in 2002, and is developed by a nonprofit organisation, Mozilla. Currently, it is the third most widely used
web browser on the Internet, behind Google’s Chrome (49.3% market share) and Apple’s Safari (31.6%).
Out of the box, the default privacy settings are not as strong as other browsers (e.g. Brave) , however, Firefox is well known for it’s customisability, making it a popular alternative to Google, Microsoft, and Apple. For example, while Firefox does not automatically block advertisements, there are numerous browser extensions that can be installed to improve security and privacy. Related: DF Tube: How to resist the Blackhole of YouTube
Firefox does collect some telemetry data, which, they say, is used to improve performance and stability. For example, it will record data about your interactions, such as the number of tabs you open, websites you visit, and plugins you install. In addition, technical data such as the operating system you use, memory etc is also collected. It is, however, an easy task to disable the collection of this data, so be sure to do this as part of the recommended Firefox customisation .
Link to Firefox browser
Tor browser was developed by the Tor Project
in 2002. It’s name is derived from an acronym of the original software project name
The Onion Router. When using Tor, your activity and identity are masked, and encrypted in at least three layers (like layers of an onion).
The browser is based on Firefox, and uses the Tor network to route your web traffic across the internet. It allows users to access the internet anonymously, since while websites (and your ISP) know that you are connecting through Tor, they cannot identify you. Anonymity is achieved by routing your web traffic around a distributed network of volunteer (thousands) computers, so your path through the internet is effectively hidden. In doing so, your ISP now only knows where you entered the Tor network , not where you exited. Therefore, they cannot identify you when you visit a website on the other end of the communication (when you exit the Tor network).
Out of the box, Tor is very secure. It does not track your browsing history and will clear your cookies at the end of a session. In addition, the browser includes some builtin protection such as fingerprinting protection.
The use of the Tor network can, however, make browsing quite slow (especially streaming). It’s high level of default protection can also break many websites, making them unusable, or littered with endless CAPTCHA verifications. Finally, Tor is often simply blocked by websites, meaning you will not even be able to view them. One way around this is to use the Tor browser with the Tor network disabled, although in this case, it’s probably easierto just use Firefox.
Link to Tor browser
While researching the content for this article, I surveyed my mailing list about their password security habits. Here’s what I found.
- 86% (+) of people use Google Chrome for web browsing
- 54% of people say they use the same web browser on all their devices
- 60% of people sync their data (browsing history, bookmarks etc) across all their devices
- 53% (+) of people allow their browser to save their passwords for websites they visit
- 100% of people use a browser which blocks pop-ups or adverts
From the results, it’s clear that there is a heavy reliance on Google for online interactions.
Google Chrome is heavily used, with higher usage than the overall market share (49.3%)
A significant number of people are also syncing data through google’s platform, potentially linking individual activities together (data linkability will be discussed in a future post).
Disclaimer: The advice I am about to share is specifically targeted to subscribers of my mailing list, although it is probably applicable more broadly. I regularly poll my mailing list and respond to their questions regarding their digital habits. If you would like to receive the right advice for you, join the mailing list .
Everyone should consider an alternative to Google Chrome.
Avoid signing up for new websites with your google account, or even Facebook. Sign up with a separate email address and password (again to reduce data linkability).
You do not need to stick to using one web browser. It can be advantageous to group activities and use a different web browser for each (more on this in a future post).
There is no perfect web browser, but if you go with one of the above examples you shouldn’t go too wrong.
Recommended Web Browser
Regular browsing/skill level (most people, daily internet browsing)
- Choose a browser that you are comfortable using
- Choose a browser that supports extensions you may want to use (avoid too many)
- Choose a browser which offers the best out of the box privacy
- Use more than one browser as required.
I recommend Brave or Firefox (with recommended privacy configuration applied)
Anonymous browsing/Advanced skill level (browsing you would like to keep anonymous)
- Choose a browser which allows you to customise the settings to your needs.
- Use multiple browsers as required
- If using Tor, do not login to your online identities while browsing the web on the same session. Tor doesn’t magically protect you from data you submit to websites. This can still be seen!
- If using Tor, do not install any plugins or make any customisations. Doing so will could make you stand out from the crowd, and therefore, potentially more traceable.
I recommend Firefox (general surfing) and Tor (if you need the best anonymity)
Finally, switching to a secure web browser is going to drastically improve your digital privacy.
Using a secure web browser contributes to the
Protect strategy of my Digital Balance philosophy, which encourages us to:
refine our digital interactions so they continue to support the goals and activities we want to pursue but minimise our exposure to risk and unhealthy relationships with technology
– Dr CD McDermott