Big Brother is looking over your shoulder, but there is something you can do about it. Along with an effective VPN application, you might want to consider using a secure browser to protect your internet activity. Privacy-conscious internet users will often use a combination of the two to guard against snooping by hackers, ISPs, and governments. It is alarming how readily the world has yielded their rights to privacy in recent years in exchange for more interaction on the public web. Private browsers can help reclaim some of that lost privacy.
What Are Private Web Browsers?
Google Chrome users know that there are many useful features that you can use across multiple devices. Chrome will remember your browser history, your passwords, your form data, and your file downloads. You can be sure that your user experience will be similar whether you are using your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or PC. And you can log into your Chrome account and enjoy the same features on another computer, such as at work, at the library, or on a friend’s computer. But all this convenience comes at a price: your privacy.
Private web browsers are an alternative to this constant supervision by one of the largest tech companies in the world. Using a dedicated private browser, or in some respects the private browsing feature of a standard web browser, you can counteract the annoying practices that impinge on your privacy and security. Unlike standard browsing, many private web browsers (to one degree or another) do not track your browsing history, form data, downloaded files, or IP address. And they might suppress online advertisements,data collection through cookies, and malicious code.,
Even the most popular browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer/Edge, and Firefox, have special features like incognito mode or InPrivate browsing that offer protections similar to what you get in the more private browsers. But many privacy features require manual configurations that average users might not be aware of.
If you are looking for extreme privacy, you’ll find that Tor is one of the best anonymous browsers available. Of course, you should be aware that it also has a negative reputation. Tor is the primary gateway to the Dark Web, a somewhat seedy and chaotic underworld of internet activity where as much as 50% of websites engage in illicit or illegal activity. That is not to say that there are not legitimate, practical uses for this highly secure web browser.
Usage of the Tor Browser is high in countries where the internet is highly controlled, such as China. Even so, according to the article “The Attack on Global Privacy Leaves Few Places to Turn” in Wired Magazine, using Tor to get around the “Great Firewall” in China takes some doing.
Tor stands for The Onion Router, and it uses multiple anonymous relays that hide IP addresses as part of onion routing. The Tor Browser may be a bit much for the average user, but anyone who is highly concerned about privacy may want to consider it. Among other things, Tor has become a haven for government whistleblowers.
They claim that they are on a mission “to fix the web”, quite a noble ambition. Brave blocks all advertisements — except that it replaces them with its own, which many content providers have frowned upon. Brave blocks third-party cookies and allows scripts only on sites that you trust. It’s a lightweight and fast alternative to Chrome.
Based on Chromium, an open-source project involving Google, Brave includes some of the backend technologies that power Chrome. It can even run some (but not all) Chrome extensions. Part of the draw of the Brave browser is that it benefits from faster speeds due to the way its strips ads from web pages.
Epic Privacy Browser
Epic is another Chromium-based browser that focuses on privacy. Their website touts its capabilities:
The world’s only private and secure web browser blocks ads, trackers, fingerprinting, cryptomining, ultrasound signaling and more.
It may be a bit presumptuous to claim to be the “only” private web browser. I’m sure Epic’s competitors will have a much different opinion. But the thing about Epic is that it’s always in privacy browsing mode. As soon as you leave the browser, all of your browsing data is gone. Unlike Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, Epic deletes all this stuff by default.
Epic also includes a built-in VPN service that automatically hides the user’s IP address. This part you will have to turn on manually inside the browser. Epic also blocks all ads and ad trackers, as well as other fingerprinting techniques. Privacy is the the main concern of Epic and its Indian maker, Hidden Reflex.
While Opera has some of the look and feel of Chrome, it is actually a Chromium-based product. Opera has a built-in VPN tool. It blocks ads, but its default window will cache your history. You will have to open a new private window to take advantage of private browsing. The browser also provides malware protection and blocks scripts and unsecure add-ons.
The browser has other privacy features, such as a built-in VPN. But beware. This VPN tracks bandwidth and logs your usage.
Browsers like Opera can be a mixed bag. You might think that it’s a more secure alternative to Chrome, but there are no guarantees. If you’re looking for a pleasant user experience, then Opera might be a good choice. But the browser won’t give you the privacy and security that the Tor Browser provides.
Selecting the Right Browser
This is just a sampling of web browsers with different features and levels of security and privacy. As with any software, your best bet is to try out web browsers for yourself if you are looking for something more secure than you are currently using. Ranking browsers can be difficult, because a lot depends on the user’s personal preference. Are you looking for total privacy? Or do you just want more privacy without sacrificing ease of use?
There are quite a few browser makers that, like Epic, claim be the most secure, or the most private, or the best. To each his own. Here are some more choices — aside from Chrome, Internet Explorer/Edge, Safari, or Firefox — that you might want to review and try out on your own:
- Torch Browser
- Firefox Focus
- Comodo Dragon Browser
- Avira Scout Browser
- Disconnect Browser
- Dooble Browser
- Pale Moon
- The Invisible Internet Project (I2P)
The plethora of browser choices can be overwhelming. In making your choice from among the more secure web browsers, it might help to decide on what’s most important to you. If you want a browser that wipes out advertisements, then Brave might be your best choice. If you want total anonymity, try out the Tor Browser. If you only want to browse privately for a short time, you might just want to turn on the incognito or private browsing feature in your current browser. Whatever you decide, the truth of the matter is that no browser can guarantee complete security or privacy. The only way sure way for that to happen is to disconnect from the internet — but who wants to do that?