Google launched the Chrome web browser in 2008, around six years after Firefox emerged. It used – and still does - the open source Chromium engine and was a revelation in terms of speed and usability.
There are still advantages of using Chrome – the way it integrates with Google’s own services, the huge choice of extensions – but there are arguably more disadvantages these days.
For a long time Chrome was the best Chromium browser you could get, but that’s no longer true. It’s become bloated and is a terrible memory hog for those using it with Windows 10. If you have a lot of tabs open, your computer can quickly grind to a halt.
Other web browsers – including those based on Chromium such as Brave and Microsoft Edge – don’t cause the same problem.
But this almost a sideshow compared to Chrome’s biggest downside. Privacy. Or, specifically, a complete lack of it. This should come as no surprise: Google’s business is based on data and collecting as much as it can.
Use Chrome and the default search engine is, naturally, Google. It’s the best in the business but your typed and spoken searches are all logged and used to tailor adverts so they’re as relevant as they can be.
You may consider this a benefit, but most people don’t like their activity being tracked and being shown ads for products they’ve just looked at.
Those ad-blockers you can get for Chrome? Google doesn’t let them block all ads. Some, but not all types.
What you may not know is that there are lots of web browsers designed with privacy in mind. Brave, already mentioned, is one of the best known. Its claims are impressive: 3x faster than Chrome, up to 35% less battery usage on mobile and better privacy than Firefox (at the default settings).
Alongside Brave is Opera, which is an underrated option as far as I’m concerned. It blocks ads and tracking and has a built-in VPN, which is great for use on public Wi-Fi and it’ll even unblock Netflix.
It’s very basic, but since it’s free and as simple as turning it on in the settings, there’s hardly cause for complaint. Just note that Opera’s Touch browser for iOS and Android doesn’t have the VPN, but it does block ads and trackers.
Another option is Avast’s Secure Browser, based on Chromium. It blocks ads by default, but you can choose just to block the most intrusive ones.
It has extra privacy features such as stopping websites from identifying you based on your web browser profile, and will also alert you if your email address gets leaked online.
It also warns you of dangerous websites by default, alerting you before you click harmful links. It also forces websites to use encryption to protect your data.
There’s integration with Avast’s VPN service, which is free as part of the mobile version of the browser but not with the desktop version: you have to subscribe.
You can still use Gmail, Google Docs and other Google services in those browsers: they’re not exclusive to Chrome.
There are of course, loads more great browsers - see them in our roundup of the best privacy browsers. As they're free, you can try them all.
Tips for staying anonymous online
1. Don’t use Google search
Using a ‘privacy browser’ such as those mentioned is a great start. But avoid setting Google as the default search engine if you don’t want Google to know what you’re searching for.
2. Don’t rely on private browsing mode – use a VPN
People think - and understandably so - that when you open a private tab (incognito in Chrome) that your activity is private. It isn’t. It simply means your searches and sites you visit aren’t recorded in your history. Your internet service provider will still see that information, and if you’re signed into your Google account, Google will know what you’re up to as well.
Use a VPN, which encrypts your data, to stop your ISP seeing which sites you’re using.
3. Don’t sign into your accounts
Some VPN services claim to make you anonymous. But these should be accompanied by a huge asterisk, with a warning that signing into any account – Google, Facebook, Amazon or any other site – will reveal to that service exactly who you are.
There’s no point using a VPN if you’re signed into your Google account: that won’t prevent Google recording your activity.
Obviously, remaining anonymous means sacrificing convenience so you’ll really have to be serious about wanting that level of privacy.