There are many things you can (and should) do to protect your online privacy. One of these is recognizing that some browsers are better than others.
Using a secure browser (and search engine, for that matter) is vital for staying safe online. This is especially true for those times when you aren’t using a VPN, such as when using online banking.
But what are the best browsers – and which ones should you be avoiding?
This is exactly what we wanted to talk about today.
Is the Browser I Use Really That Important?
Remember that saying about how if something’s free, you’re the product? Well, you aren’t paying for your browser – at least not with money.
Browsers collect vast amounts of private information about their users by default. Third parties can often very easily tap into that wealth of data and exploit it for advertising or other, even more nefarious purposes.
For example, your browser knows:
- Your browsing history
- Your login credentials (username and passwords)
- Autofill information such as names, addresses, and phone numbers
- Your approximate location
When you visit a website, it also stores cookies and trackers on your device, almost always in your browser itself.
It’s also important to realize that even if you’re using the most secure browser available and have modified it with advanced settings and browser add-ons, you’re still not 100% safe.
The Best Browsers to Secure Your Online Privacy
We want to focus on the best browsers, based on two primary factors – security and privacy.
There are always going to be conflicting opinions and we won’t pretend to be 100% objective.
If you have the time and inclination, it’s worth trying a few of these browsers to see which works best for you.
1. Firefox (Modified)
After trying out all of the 5 best browsers featured here, we’ve found ourselves sticking with Mozilla Firefox. However, it’s not the best out of the box – you do need to modify it for privacy and security.
We recommend the following changes in the Options/Preferences menu:
- Disable Telemetry
- Change the default search engine to DuckDuckGo
- Set Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection/Content Blocking to Strict
- Enable the “Do Not Track” setting (optional)
There are also a few things to consider changing in the About:Config settings, including disabling WebRTC and blocking cryptominers. However, these are a little more nuanced and some of them are more prone to causing other issues.
The last set of modifications would be to include some browser add-ons, which we’ve covered in another post.
If you’re interested in seeing a full how-to guide, complete with a breakdown of the about:config settings changes, let us know in the comments below!
2. GNU IceCat
GNU IceCat is what we call a Firefox fork – that is to say, it’s based on Firefox’s source code. As something of an oversimplification, you could say it’s almost like installing a version of Firefox that’s already been modified for better privacy and security.
The biggest reason we’ve placed Firefox over IceCat is usability.
Another option is browser compartmentalization, using IceCat for general browsing and a modified Firefox for streaming and visiting any other sites that don’t work with IceCat.
3. Ungoogled Chromium
Ungoogled Chromium is a very secure, privacy friendly Chrome fork.
A common issue with most Chrome forks is the Google Safe Browsing feature. Even though Safe Browsing is meant to help keep you safe, it’s still a Google database and poses a significant privacy risk and is considered spyware. Fortunately, Ungoogled Chromium has the feature disabled by default.
The biggest issue with Ungoogled Chromium is it’s not very user-friendly. Still, if you prefer a Chrome fork over a modified Firefox (or Firefox fork), this is the best one out there.
Iridium is another Chrome fork worth considering.
In most ways, it offers the same benefits as Ungoogled Chromium. These include improved WebRTC security (though nothing compared to modified Firefox or GNU IceCat), Do Not Track requests, and blocking third-party cookies by default.
Unfortunately, Iridium has Google Safe Browsing enabled by default.
So even though you think you’re secure, your browser is still connecting Google’s servers within 5 minutes of starting and again every 30 minutes thereafter. On top of that, Iridium also added its own mirrored version of the spyware.
You can disable this feature manually, but you have to know it’s enabled by default and what setting to change. In Iridium’s privacy settings, you’ll have to uncheck a box somewhat misleadingly labeled “Protect you and your device from dangerous sites.”
Knowing this, the fact Iridium is more user-friendly than Ungoogled Chromium might make it a more appealing choice for you.
5. Pale Moon
Pale Moon is another Firefox fork.
It’s not the worst one out there (that would be Waterfox), but it only barely beat TOR to make it onto this list at all. While there’s a lot to love about Pale Moon, we’re not a fan of the following (as a brief summary):
- Pale Moon blocks the AdNauseam extension, falsely calling it malware, because the developer cares more about AdNauseam affecting profits than the fact it protects users from invasive advertising and trackers
- Pale Moon’s website and part of its browser is heavily reliant on Cloudflare, which is essentially an internet-scale mass-MitM attack (Man-in-the-Middle), and its developer defends Cloudflare’s ability to violate user privacy without notification
On top of that, Pale Moon isn’t very user-friendly at all, despite seeming so at first.
Still, it’s a much better option than some of the other so-called privacy friendly options out there. If you don’t mind using something other than AdNauseam to avoid ad tracking and you’re okay with Cloudflare, Pale Moon is a decent enough option.
So there you have it – our top 5 recommendations for the best browsers available.
Note that these are all computer browsers. If you’re also looking for a more secure browser to use on your smartphone, consider Firefox Focus (Android and iOS). Or, better yet, the DuckDuckGo app (Android and iOS)! Don’t forget you must combine this with an android VPN or iPhone VPN to give you complete security and privacy.