If You Value Your Privacy, It’s Time to Move to a Different Web Browser.
A new generation of internet browsers from Brave, DuckDuckGo, and others have more robust privacy guarantees than previous generations.
The majority of us use web browsers as a matter of habit.
If you’re using Microsoft Edge to browse the internet, it’s possible that you’re running Windows. If you use Safari, you are possibly an Apple user. If you’re a Chrome user, it’s possible that you use a Google phone or laptop, or that you downloaded the Google browser on your personal device after using it on school or work computers.
In other words, we depend on readily available and familiar browsers. It’s easy to succumb to browser inertia because all of these apps are fast, capable, and serve the same purpose: visiting a website.
Therefore, if the distinctions are trivial, why bother looking for something else?
By the end of this column, I hope to have convinced you to at least try something different: a private browser, a new form of internet navigator. This type of browser has emerged in the last three years from lesser-known brands such as DuckDuckGo and Brave. What makes them unique is that they significantly reduce the amount of data collected about us by blocking the technology used to track us.
That is generally superior to what the majority of mainstream browsers, especially Chrome, do. While some browsers, such as Safari and Firefox, have anti-tracking functionality, smaller brands have prioritized additional privacy protections.
Additionally, we have reached a tipping point in terms of digital privacy. The online advertising industry is on the verge of discontinuing the use of web cookies, small pieces of code embedded in browsers that monitor our movements and assist advertisers in targeting us with advertisements. Google, whose Chrome browser is the most common on the planet, has been experimenting with a new way to target us with advertising that does not involve cookies.
Let us not hesitate. You can opt out of tracking at any time.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Gennie Gebhart, a privacy advocate and director at the civil rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Companies that rely on ads to consumers, such as Google, are trying to figure out the next step. Additionally, it is a time for consumers to become aware and make an informed choice.”
Unlike mainstream web browsers, private browsers come in a variety of flavors and are used for a variety of purposes. I tested three of the most common options — DuckDuckGo, Brave, and Firefox Focus — for about a week. Even I was shocked that I eventually changed my iPhone’s default browser to Brave. This is how it transpired.
What is the difference between a private browser and a public browser?
It’s critical to understand what private browsers do and do not do. Therefore, let us take a look under the hood.
Private browsers usually implement well-established web technologies:
They depend on something called private mode, alternatively referred to as incognito mode, which is a mode of browsing that does not keep track of the websites you visit. This is advantageous if you do not want individuals who have physical access to your computer to eavesdrop on you.
Private browsers also make use of tracker blockers, which are often available as browser add-ons. The blockers are based on a documented list of trackers that collect data about your identity. When you visit a website, the program identifies and blocks certain trackers from following you from site to site. The significant drawback of this strategy is that blocking them will sometimes destroy vital components of websites, such as shopping carts and videos.
Privacy-conscious browsers usually allow private mode by default or purge browsing history when the window is closed. Additionally, browsers have built-in tracking protection, which enables them to actively block trackers while minimizing website downtime.
However, private browsers do not conceal the fact that your internet provider can see which websites you visit. Therefore, if you are on holiday and using the hotel’s Wi-Fi, a private browser will not shield your browsing data from the hotel’s internet provider. To obtain this level of security, you must connect to a virtual private network (VPN), a technology that generates a virtual tunnel that encrypts your browsing data.
Introduce yourself to private browsers.
Firefox Focus, DuckDuckGo, and Brave are all comparable, but with some significant distinctions.
Firefox Focus, which is available exclusively for mobile devices such as iPhones and Android smartphones, is a stripped-down browser. You type in a web address and then click the trash icon to end the session. When the app is locked, the background is automatically cleared. When a website is loaded, the browser consults a database of trackers to decide which ones to block.
The DuckDuckGo browser, which is also only available on mobile devices, is more conventional in design. This allows you to bookmark your favorite websites and open multiple browser tabs at the same time.
When you use the search bar, the browser returns results from the DuckDuckGo search engine, which the company claims is more concerned with privacy than other search engines because its advertisements do not monitor users’ online activity. Additionally, DuckDuckGo blocks the loading of ad trackers. When you’re finished browsing, click the flame icon at the bottom to end the session.
Brave is also more akin to a traditional web browser, complete with anti-tracking technology and bookmarks and tabs. It contains a private mode that must be allowed if you do not want your web history to be scrutinized.
Additionally, Brave is so aggressive in blocking trackers that it almost always completely blocks ads in the process. Other private browsers blocked advertisements on a less regular basis.
For the majority of people, not seeing commercials is a bonus. However, for those interested in supporting a publisher whose advertisements are banned, Brave offers an opt-in ad network. You receive a token in return for watching advertisements that do not monitor your actions. You can then select which websites to donate tokens to. (Tokens are available only to web publishers that have partnered with Brave.)
I checked all three browsers on my iPhone, temporarily making each one my default browser.
Each has a button that displays the number of trackers they blocked while loading a website. To demonstrate this, I visited nypost.com, The New York Post’s website, which loaded 83 trackers with no tracking prevention. 15 of the nypost.com trackers were blocked using DuckDuckGo. It was 22 with Brave. Furthermore, Firefox Focus blocked 47.
However, numbers do not tell the whole tale. Firefox Focus sometimes corrupted website components. On certain websites, videos would not load and advertising windows would not close.
Selena Deckelmann, an executive at Mozilla, the company that produces Firefox, said that the company partnered with web publishers to ensure their pages loaded properly due to the strict privacy safeguards in Firefox Focus.
When I used Brave or DuckDuckGo, I had no big issues, but there was the occasional hiccup. When using DuckDuckGo to search Wirecutter, our sister publication that tests and recommends products, the names of some products did not completely load in one instance. While the site remained functional, it appeared strange.
In the end, you’re likely to be satisfied with either of the private browsers. Even if you don’t make one your default browser, it comes in handy in some cases, such as conducting a critical web search for a medical condition.
For me, Brave came out on top by a hair’s breadth. My favorite websites loaded without a hitch, and I appreciated the clean look of ad-free websites, as well as the option of opting in to see ads whenever I pleased. Brave’s CEO, Brendan Eich, said that the company’s browser blocks tracking cookies “without mercy.”
“If everybody used Brave, it would effectively eradicate the tracking-based advertisement economy,” he explained.