Best browsers for privacy

No browser can be guaranteed to be completely private. However, the best of the privacy-minded browsers promise to block ads and cookies and accommodate extensions that increase anonymity further.

There are a number of options out there, but here we take a look at the best browsers on the market for privacy.

Some companies that formerly made the list have now been removed to reflect new information. Namely, Yandex, Comodo and Cocoon because they are all proprietary and closed.

Opera was also sold in 2016 to a Chinese consortium and is now closed off and keeps users are in the dark about how the browser behaves.

Chrome features on our list but it's important to consider the following caveats: Chrome is owned by Google, and while it's based on the open source Chromium browser (also from Google), Google code means Google tracking. However, if you trust Google with your information there are ways to safeguard your browsing to a degree.

If you like Chrome there are 'de-Googled' options available like the Epic Privacy Browser (listed below) and Iridium Browser but it's hard to say if all the traces of Google are truly removed from top to bottom.

In other words, if you're privacy conscious you'll want to opt for an open source solution that receives regular updates with an active community, as well as supporting add-ons for disabling tracking and so on.

While Tor is technically the most anonymous browser, the Tor network is frequently monitored by authorities, so it could actually make you more visible in some ways than using a more conventional browser. To be truly secure with a Tor browser probably means locking down your system with a secure basic Linux OS such as Tails, and using networks that are two or three steps removed from your home wifi – like public networks.

For most users, Firefox checks all the boxes. While it's by no means airtight, you can buttress it with add-ons that minimise online tracking.  Firefox and the stripped down Firefox Quantum both get our vote.

Read next: Five steps to secure your office network

Waterfox
© Waterfox

Waterfox

Waterfoxis an open-source web browser that's based on Firefox and adapted for 64-bit operating systems.

It's priorities are to be speedy and ethical, and maintain support for legacy extensions dropped by Firefox. There are official releases for 64-bit Windows (including a portable version), macOS, 64-bit Linux and 64-bit Android.

In the name of improving security for users, the desktop versions will periodically check for browser updates by connecting to Waterfox servers. The browser will also periodically connect to Mozilla to protect you from malicious add-ons.

It's also important to note that webpage data is run through Google's SafeBrowsing service, although you can opt out of the service if you wish.

For a full explanations of the all the privacy and security features click here.

Pale Moon

Pale Moon

Pale Moonis service that forked from Firefox several years ago, and is now an open Source, Goanna-based web browser available for Microsoft Windows and Linux.

Here are some of the features as listed on the site:

  • Optimised for modern processors
  • Based on our own optimized layout engine (Goanna)
  • Safe: forked from mature Mozilla code and regularly updated
  • Secure: Additional security features and security-aware development
  • Supported by our user community, and fully non-profit
Google Chrome
© Google

Google Chrome

Freeware web browser, Google Chrome, was initially released for Microsoft Windows in 2008 and later made available for Linux, macOS, iOS and Android at later dates.

As a cross-platform browser, Chrome includes a range of installed extensions for users to make the browser suited to their individual requirements.

It also supports parental controls, and integrates HTTPS encryption for increased security of browsing and streaming online. Similar to Firefox, Chrome also supports WebAuthn as a form of two-factor authentication for password-free logins.

Google Chrome also includes a private browsing feature, known as ‘Incognito mode,’ which is built to prevent browser history, cookies and site data from being stored.

Google Chrome is available as a desktop and mobile browser.

Read Google’s Privacy Policy here.

How to stay secure?

As mentioned, Chrome offers a range of security features. However, you can never be too secure and the best way to do that is to add some extra layers of protection for yourself.

The first step is to check how secure your browser is, so you can identify any flaws and see what needs fixing. Google’s Security Check-up is great for this, once loaded Chrome will automatically log you in and all the areas that need addressing will be flagged.

Secondly, check your privacy settings using Privacy Check-up. This will show how your information and browsing behaviour is being used by Google.

Similar to Chrome’s WebAuthn, it’s also a good idea to enable two-step verification, which limits others from logging into your Google account.

However, the most privacy-concscious users might want to avoid using Google entirely.

Tor Browser
© Tor

Tor Browser

Built with 'hidden' relay servers Tor is free software that goes some way to masking user location and activity. It comes with a bundled browser, which is a stripped down and modified version of Firefox designed to work with the network.

Tor blocks all plug-ins and only uses HTTPS connections, meaning its user experience is more demanding than others but you do get more privacy.

Run by volunteers working across the globe, Tor claims to protect your online profile by 'bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays', this should prevent website admins from seeing the location of your site visit.

When you fire up Tor, you can launch a browser from within its network that's essentially a stripped down version of Firefox.

Brave
© Brave

Brave

Braveis a relatively new browser whose security credentials pack quite a punch. It's from the co-founder of the Mozilla Foundation and Javascript creator Brendan Eich, and it offers great speeds and even greater ad-tracking controls.

Brave is ideal for people that want to download a browser and get up and running as soon as possible with privacy protections built in.

There is an opt-in programme where users can replace targeted ads with anonymised ads to share revenue with the creators of the browser, although this is still in its early stages. In addition, there's a default restriction on ad-tracking which means that users will experience faster browsing and, more importantly, private browsing.

Although Brave is more of a secure browser than a private one, it does prioritise privacy.

Available on Windows, Linux and OS X, Brave is still in its infancy, so it might not be as polished as some Chome or Firefox setups but delivers a solid browser regardless. A mobile option is also available.

Apple Safari
© Apple

Apple Safari

Safariis Apple’s web browser, which was previously available on Windows until 2012 and is now only available on iOS and macOS.

Although it does not have regular updates, like other browsers, Safari is quite secure and users tend to remain protected while using the browser. It also protects against suspicious sites and malicious code.

Safari's ‘do not track’ feature promises privacy, and the browser also prevents third-party sites from being able to leave data in the cache by default.

Firefox/Firefox Quantum
© Mozilla

Firefox/Firefox Quantum

As a standalone browser, Firefox's data is encrypted and for added peace of mind, Firefox reviews all add-ons before they are released or highlights which ones are 'experimental'.

To maximise its privacy Firefox users can run on the Tor network.

To do this, you'll need to enable a Tor add-on to your Firefox browser (see here). Then you can open any web page in Tor from your Firefox browser.

Firefox also has an impressive collection of security-focused addons that will create additional layers of security.

Quantum is a relatively recent lightweight browser from the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation that also has some privacy features baked in. There are plenty of extensions that can be added to the browser for additional layers of privacy, including (but not limited to) uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, Smart HTTPS, and Cookie Auto Delete.

How to stay secure?

Remaining secure on Firefox is relatively simple, but to ensure that you are protected against attacks it is a good idea to activate some of the browser’s features.

These include:

Firefox ‘Do Not Track’
Firefox Phishing and Malware blocking
Firefox pop-up blocker

Each feature has its core capabilities, but as the names suggest, they each protect against the individual attacks and once activated you should be able to browse securely.

HTTPS Everywhere
iStock

HTTPS Everywhere

Rather than offering a secure standalone browser, HTTPS Everywhere is a browser plugin created by the EFF and Tor project, which enforces SSL security.

Available on Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers, this secure browser plugin promises to prevent online surveillance and account hijacking by automatically switching sites from insecure "http" to secure "https" connections.

One possible downside is that some users have reported distorted web pages when using it in Chrome. Although, it doesn't appear to be a massive issue across the board.

Epic privacy browser
iStock

Epic privacy browser

Based on Chromium, Epic removes all frills to maximise security.

For Epic users, all cookies and trackers are eliminated after each session, so no data is collected, they say anyway. Epic also claims to protect users from 'over one thousand tracking attemptsin an average browsing session' while also making your PC 25 percent faster by blocking page tracking.

For a fully encrypted connection, Epic also includes a one-button proxy service that does often slow down browsing but will appeal to some users wanting anonymity while browsing.

Dooble
iStock

Dooble

Available on FreeBSD, Linux, OS X, OS/2, and Windows, Dooble is an open source browser claiming to provide absolute privacy for its users.

Dooble uses authenticated encryption on most of its stored data and allows security passphrases to be created for each browser, which is a great feature for devices shared with various people.

Dooble also has a security tab with numerous settings to control privacy preferences, offering excellent customisation features.

The project, however, appears to be only minimally active.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.