Privacy glossary

Online privacy can be confusing. What’s fingerprinting? Why are trackers bad? In this easy-to-read list you’ll find short definitions of essential privacy terms.



Ad blocker
An ad blocker is a piece of software—often a browser extension—that blocks ads on Web pages, videos, streams, podcasts, or apps. Ad blockers often improve your browsing experience, but can bring security risks.
AMP is a non-standard form of HTML developed and pushed by Google. AMP pages look like they’re coming from the original publisher’s site, but in fact are cached versions of these pages that live on Google’s servers. This makes AMP harmful to privacy, security, and the openness of the Web. AMP pages are often slower than the original publisher versions, too.
When browsing the Web, anonymity means that a website can't distinguish you from other site visitors. This is related to, but distinct from, "pseudonymity" (which refers to a site being able to recognize that you visited previously, but not know you who you are individually).


Big Tech
Big tech generally refers to any large technology company that makes widely-used software and hardware.
Bounce Tracking
Bounce tracking (aka “redirect tracking”) is when a tracker can know you and / or your interests by inserting an intermediary link between pages you visit. For example, if you’re on and you click a link to, you might briefly be taken to first. The tracker could learn you like cats and dogs, and use this data to sell targeted ads. (Note this intermediate bounce to will happen so quickly you won’t notice, unless you’re closely watching the address bar.)
A browser is a mobile or desktop app you can use to browse the Web. The browser “calls” the server on which a website is hosted, and then renders that site for you in an intelligible way. Note that a browser is different than a search engine.


Cache (or caching) is the storage of data to prevent the need for future requests. Caching means your browser stores some data about previously visited websites so those sites / pages load faster the next time you visit.
A client is the hardware or software that accesses a service on a server. Your phone, tablet, or computer—and in some cases the software on those devices, like your browser—will be considered a client.
A cookie is a snippet of data that a website (the server) places on your device (the client). In some cases these are benign, and required for the site or app to function (e.g. to know you put an item in a shopping cart). In other cases, cookies can be used to track your browsing activity, search history, and to follow you across the Web. Note that the term "cookie" is used in two different ways: to describe a specific way of setting values on browsers; and as a general term for all ways sites can store values on clients.


Encryption is a cryptography term that means a message or data is indecipherable to outside observers. In Web browsing, this can mean data is unreadable as it moves across the internet. If the data is also only readable by the site or app you want to view, it would be "end-to-end" (E2E) encrypted. Note that E2E encryption has very specific technical requirements, and most services that claim to offer it actually don't. Also note that in some cases the parties on the website you're viewing can see your message content (e.g. Facebook can see what you post in the WhatsApp client).
An extension is a small software module that can be downloaded and added to a Web browser to augment it’s out-of-the-box functionality. Common browser extensions include ad blockers, spell-checkers, dark-mode / visual altering tools, and crypto wallets. Extensions are usually made by third parties (i.e. not the browser), and not always policed or vetted for security / privacy risks.


Filter lists
A filter list is a list of ads, trackers, pop-ups, cookie consent notifications, or other website annoyances that people often prefer to block. Filter lists are commonly applied by ad blockers (either extension-based or browser-native options) to shield you from these annoyances.
A fingerprint is a sufficient number of signals or data points that can be combined to uniquely identify you to a website. Browser fingerprinting works by collecting multiple things that are slightly unique about your browser or environment (e.g. your operating system, the size of your browser window, language setting, etc), and combining them into a unique, digital identification. As more browsers block cookies by default, Web trackers have shifted to fingerprinting-based tracking.
First party
With a website or app, first-party means the data or resources (which can include things like trackers, cookies, scripts, etc.) loaded directly from the service itself. First-party is contrasted with third-party, where some (or all) code, images, or ads load from a source other than the site or app you're using.
First-party ad
A first-party ad is an ad served directly from the website you're visiting, or the browser you're using to visit that site. With a third-party ad, by contrast, the ad comes from a different website than the one you're visiting. First-party ads are generally more secure and private, and present less risk of tracking or data collection.


HTML is short for HyperText Markup Language, the standard coding (or "markup") language used to build pages that render in a Web browser. Your browser displays the HTML in an intelligible way with words, images, and formatting.
HTTPS is short for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, a protocol for secure communication on the Web. HTTPS is an extension of the core HTTP standard, and generally protects data in transit between the server (where a website or app "lives") and the client (phone or computer) you're browsing from. Some browsers now automatically upgrade sites to HTTPS, or will warn you if HTTPS isn't available; sites where HTTPS is not available should be visited with caution.


IP address
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numerical label that allows computers to talk to each other. Some IP addresses are public (meaning that other computers can connect and interact with them directly), while others are private (often because they're shared between many computers on the same network, like in a home office). Sometimes, your IP address can be used to identify and track you across sites and apps.
An Internet service provider (ISP) can provide home or work access to the Web, along with things like domain name registration and Web hosting. For many home internet users, connecting to the Internet means all data must go through some sort of ISP (and this ISP can see all your traffic and online activity unless you take steps to prevent it). Some examples of ISPs include Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.


Malware is a synonym for malicious software that's designed to disrupt, damage, or steal information from a computer, server, network, or other computing device. Examples of malware include viruses, trojans, ransomware, and spyware. When browsing the Web, it’s important to take adequate steps to protect yourself from malware.


Open source
Open source is a classification for software that's published with publicly available source code so that anybody can inspect, use, copy, distribute, or enhance it. Open-source software is often developed in a collaborative manner, and considered a public good, free for anybody to use. The Brave Browser, Linux operating system, and OpenOffice are examples of open-source software.


Phishing refers to sending fraudulent communications that appear authentic to trick users into submitting personal information or installing malware. Phishing often takes place via email, with the sender pretending to be a well known person or company. Phishing messages typically invoke a sense of urgency or panic, and compel readers to take immediate action—often clicking a link or navigating to a fake version of a website.
In the context of computing, privacy refers to keeping personal, financial, and browsing data free from observation and not letting unauthorized parties access it. Protecting one's privacy when browsing the Web entails blocking trackers, blocking or partitioning third-party cookies, and blocking fingerprinting and other means of identifying a person and monitoring their online activity.
Private (incognito) window
A private window is a Web browser window that deletes temporary files (like cookies, browsing activity, and form data) when the window is closed. Some types of private windows may also use an ad-blocker to stop harmful scripts, ads, and trackers from loading, but many don’t. When using a private window, your activity is still visible to parties like network administrators, governments, or your ISP.


Randomness is the quality of lacking organization or structure, or otherwise being unpredictable. In the context of digital security, randomness plays an important role in cryptography and encryption—often used to generate random strings of characters and numbers known as “keys.”
With regard to online advertising, retargeting is when users of a site or app are contacted via ads or emails to revisit the site or app, often to complete a purchase, or otherwise complete the conversion process. An example of retargeting is receiving an ad for a product you left in your shopping cart on a site. Retargeting often relies on cookies installed on a user’s device to work effectively.


Safe browsing
Safe browsing is a Google Service that warns users about fraudulent or malicious websites when a user attempts to visit them.
Search engine
A search engine is a type of software that enables users to search for content on the Web. Search engines produce results in the form of links to Web pages, images, videos, and more. Most web browsers have address bars that can both navigate to specific URLs, and carry out Web searches.
In computer systems, security refers to the protection of data and information from theft, damage, or disclosure. For example, HTTPS is a necessary (but not sufficient) way your security is protected on the web.
A server is a device or software that performs services for other devices or programs, known as clients. Servers can be physical machines, virtual machines, or software that performs server-like functions. The client-server model is the traditional and most common method for deploying apps on the Web. In the new Web3 model, nodes take the place of servers, providing more distributed and decentralized architecture.
Generally, storage refers to the process of housing digital data on a virtual or physical device, like a hard drive. It’s also common for websites to use “client-side storage,” where they store info on your device (often via cookies) that can be retrieved as needed. This is what makes it possible, for example, for you to revisit a website and see that the items you left in your shopping cart are still there.
Surveillance economy
Surveillance economy refers to the economic system where tech companies make money by tracking people, and collecting and selling user data. Data collection for the primary purpose of profit through advertising and marketing.


Third party
When visiting a website, third-party refers to the other websites and sources of code, images, and ads a website loads resources from to create the page you see. Contrast this with first-party, where the site will load resources directly from the site you're viewing. Users generally do not know which third-party resources are being loaded on a page, which can include things like trackers, cookies, scripts, and more.
Third-party ad
A third-party ad is a type of advertisement presented on a website that is delivered by someone who’s not the owner of the site itself (e.g. the content of the site comes from the owner, but the ads come from someone else). When you load the page, your device communicates with the intended website as well as a different ad server—and likely encountering their own trackers and cookies in the process.
A tracker is a piece of technology that is inserted into the code of a website you visit in order to record your on-site activity. Trackers collect info like site visits, searches, and clicks as you browse.


Uniform resource locator (URL) is the technical term for a Web address (like A URL specifies the location of a resource on the Web, like a website, and provides a method for reaching it. When browsing the Web, URLs appear in the address bar of your browser.


A virtual private network (VPN) enables data to be sent over the Internet through an encrypted channel (or "tunnel") for extra privacy and security. VPNs can be used to remotely access private networks, or to shield personal info (like your IP address).

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