A web browser is probably the single most useful app on your PC, tablet or phone. It grants access to the internet, which is where most of us spend our time online each day. But while you’re exploring the cornucopia of wonders online, you might not realise that the void is staring back at you. (Actually, you probably do, given you’re reading this.)
The problem with most web browsers – including the ever-popular Google Chrome – is that they allow websites and companies to track your activity, government agencies to know what you’re doing, and advertisers to show you ads for products you’ve viewed.
This might not seem much of a price to pay for free access, but as our online personas become more important, who knows what the cost of surrendering our privacy will be?
Of course, you can use a VPN to hide and secure your internet activity, and you’ll find recommendations in our
best VPNs roundup, but we also recommend you use a web browser that puts you first and does its best to pull the shutters down on those prying-eyes. Here’s our five current favourite privacy-oriented browsers.
Firefox will be familiar to almost everyone, and it may even be a case of going back to the browser you used to use. If you haven’t used it for a decade, it will still be familiar, but developer Mozilla has placed a heavy focus on privacy over the past few years and now offers an impressive suite of apps for Android, Windows, macOS and iOS that allow you to surf the web without fear of having a multitude of trackers in tow.
In fact, by default Firefox blocks over 2000 trackers with its Enhanced Tracking Protection feature and if you download Firefox Monitor then you’ll be warned you if it spots your account details appearing in another company’s data breach.
There is a wealth of plug-ins available that can further enhance your anonymity and if you use the Private Browsing mode then all the sites you visit and cookies they deposit are wiped when you close the tab.
If you want even more protection then there’s the Firefox Focus browser on
iOS, which strips everything down to the bare minimum so that you can browse with freedom. It won’t be for everyone though, as the features are quite restricted. That’s why we’d suggest the regular Firefox browser, but be sure to have a look at the settings and plug-ins so you can tailor it to your particular needs.
Download Firefox on Android, iOS, Windows and macOS.
Another popular option for privacy is Brave. It uses the open-source version of the engine which powers Google’s Chrome browser. But it doesn’t share the intrusive attitude.
Instead Brave automatically blocks trackers and ads, making the web experience fast and strangely peaceful. Now, if everyone used this approach then pretty soon there would be no free content to browse, as companies wouldn’t be able to pay their creators if all the ad-revenue disappeared and they weren’t demanding a subscription.
So, in order to keep the wheels of creativity turning, Brave offers users the choice to view what it terms ‘privacy respecting ads’ and in return you receive Brave Rewards token. These can then be donated to your favourite websites, which receive a slice of the ad-revenue. A clever approach, in our opinion.
Best of all, you can still use the majority of Chrome extensions with Brave and the app is available on Android, iOS, macOS and Windows, so you can keep all your bookmarks and other settings synced across your devices.
Desktop users can also make use of the option to browse with Tor, which offers even more privacy features such as the ability to hide your location. This is proposed to make an appearance on the mobile apps soon.
While Brave gives Windows and macOS users the option to browse with Tor, if you want to take advantage of the high levels of security that the platform is renowned for then you can just use its dedicated browser.
Tor covers your online tracks by routing your data through multiple servers on its network, so that by the end there’s no way to track you. It also deletes all cookies and site histories at the end of every session. There’s little argument that it’s the most secure way to browse the web, but all of this privacy does come at a cost.
You won’t find the helpful plug-ins or other polish offered by the likes of Brave or Firefox, instead it’s a pretty basic experience and some elements of websites won’t work properly due to the restrictions imposed by Tor.
If you’re researching things you want to remain private, then it’s a great browser, but as a day-to-day app you mind find that security isn’t exactly compatible with convenience.
Download Tor for Windows, Android, macOS or Linux.
Everyone loves cake, and now it can even help keep you safe online. Cake only available on mobile devices at the moment, due to the fact that it employs an innovative design that allow you to swipe between bookmarks and webpages.
That in itself makes it one worthy of investigation, but there’s also the more pertinent features that include ad blocking, data encryption, anti-tracking, anonymous search and a free, unlimited VPN that can make it look like you’re in a completely different country if nosy-parkers try to find your location.
It’s a new kid on the block, so there’s not the kind of additional plug-ins or extensions that you’ll find on some of its rivals, but Cake has certainly made a good start.
The name might sound a bit strange, but DuckDuckGo has long been a search engine people have turned to when they didn’t want Google or Microsoft harvesting the things they looked for online. Now you can have the anonymity of DuckDuckGo search in the dedicated browser for mobile devices.
Here you’re able to peruse the web with the confidence that not only are your searches secure but there are no tracking cookies watching you either. It’s not quite the full bells-and-whistles offering of Chrome, but what you lose in added functionality you gain in privacy.
It’s not just browsers that can keep you safe when using the web, as there are other tools that can show you
how to stop advertisers tracking you online.