What are the best private browsers to protect your online privacy?
Ever been browsing the Internet, seen an ad for some random product, then had ads for that same thing follow you to other sites? Of course you have—the Big Tech economy is totally reliant on watching and tracking your browsing habits so it can sell highly targeted ad space.
If that makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. More and more people are turning to private browsers to block this annoying—and invasive—fact of the modern Web. But there are so many options to choose from… What’s the best private browser?
Key considerations when choosing a private browser
Most often, you access websites through a Web browser (mobile apps being one notable exception). That makes privacy-first browsers one of the most effective ways to block tracking. In general, there are two main things to consider when picking a browser.
The first is how well your browser protects you from unwanted identification and cross-site tracking. These tools allow ad-tech companies to build a profile on you, and “personalize” their ads so they’re more likely to catch your attention.
The second thing to consider is what the browser itself does with your data. Most browsers are built by companies that earn huge profits from advertising; Google and Microsoft are two prime examples.
Common ways to browse more privately
Instead of using a truly private browser, many users turn to easy alternatives like their browser’s Incognito (or “private”) mode, or by installing privacy extensions. Unfortunately, these both fall short of expectations.
Incognito mode: how it works, and its limitations
Almost every browser has a native version of Chrome’s well-known Incognito (or “private”) mode. And most people assume their browsing activity is hidden when they use an Incognito tab. Unfortunately, this isn’t completely true.
Incognito mode does give you fresh storage, which can prevent most forms of cross site tracking (as long as you don’t use the same private window for a long period of time). But Incognito doesn’t completely hide your actions from online third-parties; Big Tech can still see what you’re browsing. With Incognito, the “privacy” is limited.
To be clear, Incognito mode has its place. Checking a hotel for a surprise getaway? Researching a controversial or sensitive topic? Incognito is great for those use cases. But not so much for true online privacy. You can still be tracked in Incognito mode, and your Internet service provider (ISP) will still have a good idea of what you did online.
Privacy extensions: helpful, but limited…and risky
To avoid switching browsers, many people install ad blockers and other privacy extensions to their existing browsers. And it’s true that most good ad blockers will also stop (or at least limit) the reach of third-party cookies and trackers. But it’s worth noting that extensions can introduce new problems.
For example, ad-blocking extensions can see everything displayed in your browser. If someone gains access to that extension—or if the person or company who made that extension has ulterior motives—you can still be tracked. Ironically, by installing an extension to your browser, you may be adding a potential vulnerability, rather than removing one.
It’s vitally important that you only add verified, reputable extensions from your browser’s official app store. Even then, there are risks; apps can be bought and sold, and an app that started secure could end up serving a more dubious purpose. Also note that these extensions can slow down your browser’s performance, or cause other unintended consequences.
Top private browsers: a comparison of the best privacy-focused options
Instead of settling for Incognito mode or third-party apps, you may want to consider a privacy-first browser. While there’s no strict definition of what makes a browser private, most will come with data protection built in by default.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable.
The Brave browser was built from the ground up with privacy in mind. The moment you open the Brave browser, the application aims to enhance security by sending the fewest requests possible to other websites. In addition, Brave blocks third-party trackers and unwanted ads automatically. Brave upgrades site security (to HTTPS whenever possible, and has a browser-native virtual private network (VPN). In fact, Brave has dozens of privacy-preserving features built right into the source code.
But Brave, like other major browsers, is built on the open-source Chromium codebase. This means it works just like Chrome and other popular browsers, with easy use of extensions, bookmarks, saved passwords, tabs, and other familiar functionality. It also brings blazing fast browsing speed, and offers the best blend of both privacy and performance.
The Tor Browser uses an anonymous network of computers to connect to the Internet. Your connection is forwarded from one computer to the next, with each step only knowing the previous one. On the plus side, this method results in a highly private connection. On the downside, it can bring considerably slower page load than other browsers.
Although Tor is a highly private browser, it can require more patience and technical know-how than other options. To mitigate this, users can get Tor’s privacy inside of Brave, via Brave’s Private Window with Tor.
Because Firefox operates on a non-profit model, there’s less incentive to track your browsing habits; it’s not an advertising company like Google. However, Firefox isn’t entirely private. Firefox does use Google as its default search engine, and receives lucrative financial support from Google’s parent company.
Safari is the default browser for Mac and iOS devices, and offers fundamental security features like a pop-up blocker. However, the browser does not offer anything above and beyond standard privacy.
For example, Safari doesn’t block trackers, nor does it automatically upgrade website security from HTTP to HTTPS. One other drawback is that Safari is only officially available on Mac and iOS devices; the browser ceased cross-platform support several years ago. (If you find a Safari app for Android, Linux, or Windows, be wary—these aren’t made by Apple.)
The privacy-based search engine, DuckDuckGo, also offers a privacy-first mobile browser. This browser blocks trackers and assigns each website a privacy score, providing a transparent view of what each site does or tries to do with your data.
The Vivaldi browser emphasizes customization, providing users with several tools that enable a more private browsing experience. For example, the browser allows users to block third-party trackers. Provided you take the time to configure the browser correctly, Vivaldi is a practical private browser.
The Opera browser offers several valuable features, including an integrated VPN that hides your IP address from prying eyes. However, Opera also has a couple of known privacy issues. For example, the browser sends requests to several sites known to track your activity—notably Yandex (the Russian search engine).
Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome: popular but not private
You may have noticed that two popular browsers—Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome—are missing from our list. There’s a reason for that: They’re not very private.
Independent studies have shown that Edge and Chrome send identifying hardware details and browsing data back to Microsoft and Google, respectively. And Google, as an advertising company, built Chrome to track as many of your online activities as possible. Google also tracks your search history, and any activity with affiliated sites like YouTube and Google Maps.
With both browsers, the main threats to your privacy come from the browser itself, rather than third parties.
Brave: a user-friendly private browser
Although you can improve the privacy of most browsers, it often requires adding a host of extensions, changing default settings, finding new search engines, and generally taking extra steps to keep your data safe.
However, fully integrated browsers like Brave do this work for you, empowering users on several fronts. Brave is a next-generation browser that puts user privacy over Big Tech profit. Download Brave and try it today.
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