Best (and Worst) Browsers for Privacy
There are so many web browsers available today that it can be difficult to determine which is best to use. However, when using the Internet, privacy should always be a top priority, and not all Internet browsers offer the same levels of security and privacy. In this article, we’ll cover both the best browser for privacy - and the worst - so that you can surf the web knowing that your information and online identity are secure.
Why do I need privacy on web browsers?
Web browser privacy is important because we access the Internet through web browsers. Threats of malware, viruses, and other damaging software are always present online. Your web browser can protect against those dangers – if you choose the right one.
Each browser has its own security features and privacy settings. Choosing a secure, private web browser helps you protect yourself and your information online. Some even hide your public IP address, which you can view on the What's My IP Address homepage. Furthermore, the amount of tracking that users experience online is at an all-time high. Our browsers, our Internet service providers, and the government can all access our information if users don’t choose to use a VPN service, private web browser, or some other method of privacy.
Top three best browsers for privacy
There are several desktop and mobile browsers that prioritize user privacy and anonymity. These browsers offer security that other browsers or search engines don’t. However, they aren’t all equal. Below, we’ve included three of the best web browsers for privacy.
Mozilla Firefox is a fairly mainstream browser. Therefore, it may come as a surprise that Mozilla’s Firefox browser is actually one of the most private browsers on the Internet. Once you switch over to Firefox’s Private Browsing mode, all of your search history, cookies, and entered passwords are automatically erased after a browsing session.
Users can easily enable the Private Browsing mode on Firefox. For Windows, click on Settings and choose New Private Window (or click Ctrl+Shift+P). For Mac, click File and choose New Private Window (or simply click Shift+Cmd+P).
Firefox has no interest in forcing advertisements on users. The built-in ad blocker in Firefox’s private browser cuts off websites with hidden trackers so as to not compromise the user's browsing speed. Their ad blocking feature could make the browser even faster than Chrome, especially if your Google Chrome doesn’t have ad blockers on.
Furthermore, Firefox borrowed techniques from Tor to create their Enhanced Tracking Protection privacy feature, which blocks social media trackers, cross-site tracking cookies, and tracking in private windows. Users can customize the feature to make it as private or open as they like.
Firefox has a number of add-ons to do everything from block cookies to conceal your email address for privacy. The browser protects against phishing attacks too. Overall, Mozilla Firefox privacy is impressive for a popular browser; Mozilla’s safety features combined with easy mainstream access make it one of the best browsers for privacy-focused users.
Though lesser-know, Epic still stands as a great privacy focused web browser. Chromium, Google’s open-source browser project, powers Epic as well as browsers like Google Chrome. However, Epic is separate from Chrome; unless you’re logged into a Google account, Google does not have access to what you do in Epic’s browser.
Epic’s built-in VPN makes it unique, even compared to other privacy-focused browsers. By design, it blocks all third-party ads, trackers, browser fingerprinting, and cookies. It claims to stop over 600 tracking attempts in an average browsing session, which is remarkable.
The browser automatically clears your search history every time you close out the browser and still provides quick speeds – Epic’s blocking technology can load pages up to 25% faster than other browsers. Though Epic is not the most well-known browser, its security measures make it a great choice for all users.
Brave, like Epic, is a Chromium-based browser that automatically blocks advertisements, fingerprinting, and ad trackers. Much of the Google code embedded in Chromium was removed for the version used in Brave, but it claims to be three times faster than Chrome thanks to the removal of ads that slow down other browsers.
The Brave browser shares no identifying information about users with servers, which can give users peace of mind when browsing the Internet. It has several privacy-enhancing settings that block third-party ad trackers. It also offers the option to upgrade unsecured connections from HTTP to HTTPS, which lowers the risk of users’ information being intercepted by cybercriminals, and has the same VPN-like qualities of Epic’s web browser.
You can easily switch over to Brave from another browser. You can upload your saved passwords, bookmarks, and extensions in under a minute. Though it’s a newer browser, it offers many of the best privacy features available.
Top two worst browsers for privacy
Most popular browsers don't focus on privacy. They may provide some features for users – like Apple’s Safari, which prevents trackers from using your information but still collects a lot of data itself. But overall, they aren’t concerned with users’ privacy in the browsing experience. However, there are some browsers that are worse than most. These are the two worst web browsers when it comes to user privacy.
Without a doubt, Google Chrome is the browser least concerned with users’ privacy. Google gathers user data from every application or subsidiary company they have control over, including the Chrome browser.
It records every website users visit and every search they perform in Chrome. It also collects information such as users’ activity and location, gathered via cookies. Chrome also collects a record of anything they download and any sites they log in to.
Furthermore, if you do anything in the browser logged into a Google account – which it encourages you to do – all of the information you put into your account is saved as well, including calendar information, contacts, photos, and more. This also applies to Chrome extensions. If you use Google DNS, which is Google’s version of the domain name system, Google sees all traffic routed through its servers regardless of browser.
Ultimately, Google Chrome collects anything and everything it can on users and their activity. Avoid using Google Chrome if you want a browser focused on privacy.
Microsoft Edge isn’t as invasive as Google Chrome. But it still ranks at the bottom of the list when it comes to privacy concerns. It tracks the same amount of information as Chrome, if not more. Your browsing history, activity, and downloads are still monitored when you use Microsoft Edge.
Unlike Firefox or Epic, Microsoft Edge also doesn’t block fingerprinting. That means the browser allows companies to make a digital profile of users based on their computers’ hardware, software, and activity. This invades users’ privacy, making them easy to identify and track.
In a 2020 study, professor Douglas Leith found that out of all web browsers, Edge sent persistent identifiers that can be used to link requests to backend servers. This means that a third party can find a user’s IP address or IP location, over time, with the information revealed to backend servers.
In this aspect, the Edge browser ranked even worse than Chrome. Some users may not care that their identity is available to connect to their searches. But for many, it’s a big issue. Though in many ways Microsoft Edge privacy is better than Google Chrome privacy, Edge is by no means actually private.
What about the Tor browser?
The Tor browser is a unique browser built around an “onion” model – that is, layer upon layer of protection that ultimately strips users of an online identity completely. Tor’s default settings allow for maximum privacy; it even hides your public IP address from others' view. That makes it easy for new users and a popular choice for a private browser.
However, while Tor has many upsides – including blocked trackers, surveillance defense, and the aforementioned multi-layered encryption – its volunteer-run basis means it’s not the fastest private browser available. Tor also received negative attention for its ability to access the dark web. Tor browser in itself is completely safe and legal. However, users should exercise caution when on Tor to ensure that they don’t find themselves on dangerous sites.
What to look for in a private web browser
The web browsers mentioned above are great choices for privacy-focused options. However, they aren’t the only privacy browsers out there. When deciding whether you should use a private web browser, consider these questions:
- Does it enable cookies? A private web browser ideally should disable cookies on all fronts, or at least give users the option to opt out themselves.
- Does it collect information on its own? A web browser that stops third parties from collecting data is great, but it’s somewhat counterintuitive if the browser itself collects information.
- Does it track your location? Though certain websites, like MapQuest, may request access to your location, you don’t want your browser to keep track of it on its own.
- Does it hide your IP address? A hidden IP and other VPN-like features are a helpful addition to any privacy-focused browser.
With so many private browsing options, Internet users don’t need to fear someone collecting their information when surfing the web. Regardless of the browser you choose, make sure to always exercise caution on the Internet when it comes to your information and private data.