Privacy, Security

What to Know When Selecting a Web Browser

March 24, 2022 / My Data Removal Staff
A person using a laptop

We all use web browsers every day, with the most common browsers being Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox. Have you thought through how your browser impacts your privacy? Just because a browser is convenient or widely used does not mean it is a good choice.

Your choice of web browser plays a role in your privacy. You should be deliberate in how you use browsers on all your devices. Learn what matters about web browsers and your privacy.

TLDR: Firefox offers the best options for those who care about privacy, but still want a mainstream browser. For a more thorough discussion about privacy-friendly browsers, keep reading.

What is a web browser?

A web browser is a tool that lets you view and interact with websites on the internet. You are using a browser right now to view this website.

There are a few main items to consider when determining what browser is right for you.

What factors should you take into account?

Business model – The business model of the browser is definitely worth considering. Some browsers prioritize making money off their users. For example, Google, the maker of Chrome (the most popular browser), makes money from tracking their users and showing them ads. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Firefox is a product of a non-profit (the Mozilla Foundation) that has a mission to keep the internet open and accessible. Decide if a browser’s business model and how they interact with you is important to your decision. With regards to web searches, consider setting up your browser with a privacy-friendly search engine like DuckDuckGo.

Security – Every time you use a browser or visit a website, there is a small risk that you could encounter something malicious, such as your computer being infected with malware or some of the data you transmit could be intercepted. All the major browsers constantly address any issues with their security that could put you at risk of malicious activity, making them safer to use. Some less mainstream browsers might lack the budget or manpower to update their browsers as frequently as the most popular browsers. You can feel safe from a security standpoint using any mainstream browser, such as Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, since they all have frequent updates. If you want to use a browser not on this list, you should consider looking into their security practices.

Convenience – Chrome is very appealing because it is the fastest and has the ability to install a huge number of extensions/add-ons, making it one of the most convenient browser out there. The less mainstream browsers often have less extensions/add-ons and support, making them less convenient.

Your purpose – It can make a lot of sense to have multiple browsers that are used for different activities. For example, you can use a browser that places anonymity above all, such as The Tor browser. This browser is great for some online activities, since it helps you stay anonymous. However, there are some websites that will block you when using the Tor browser, such as your online bank, so it isn’t appropriate for every website. It could make sense to have a browser for the services you need to log into and a different browser for anonymous browsing when you don’t want to be identified or tracked.

Privacy settings – Some browsers have more extensive privacy settings and options than others. For example, some browsers by default opt you in to some data collecting and reporting options, while others do the opposite. Firefox, Tor, Epic, Brave, Vivaldi, and Puffin are a few examples of browsers that by default do not collect data on you. For mobile devices (like your phone), there are a few other options like Firefox, Firefox Focus, DuckDuckGo, Tor, Brave, or Snap Search.

What browsers should you consider?

Desktop market share: If you look at browsers by market share, there are only a few major options. Chrome has 69% of the market, then Safari with 10%, Edge at 8%, and Firefox with 7%. There are a lot of other browsers that all share a tiny sliver of the market. Safari and Edge are the default on Mac and Windows, respectively. The non-default, but still mainstream options are Chrome and Firefox.

Mobile market share: Chrome is the most popular at 64%, Safari is at 24%, and Samsung Internet 6%. There are a lot of other options, but none of them have much market share. Chrome (Android) and Safari (iOS) are the preinstalled options on mobile phones.

The Chrome Caveat

As has been discussed above, Chrome is a really good web browser across a lot of dimensions. It is incredibly fast and secure. When it comes to privacy, however, Chrome is one of the biggest offenders. Here is what you need to know about Chrome.

Chrome tracks everything you do. When you search from the Google search engine (www.google.com), Google is collecting information about you. When you do anything with Chrome, you are also sharing information with Google. Chrome tracks what you search, what websites you visit, your location, how you interact with the browser (usage statistics), your bookmarks, and likely lots of other things. For more information you can see Chrome’s full privacy policy.

Google builds profiles on people who use Google services. Hopefully, this isn’t a surprise. Google does what it can to identify you across multiple devices and builds a profile on you to better advertise to you. You make it extra easy for Google if you log into multiple devices with the same account.

Google knows a lot about you. Google knows an absurd amount about just about everyone who uses the internet. If you use Gmail, Google has access to your emails, telling them: who you communicate with, what services you subscribe to, and what things you buy online. Google knows where you are and where you go: by using the Google search engine, Google knows your IP which gives a relative location. If you have an Android phone, Google knows your exact location by working with cell towers. If you use Google Maps or Waze, Google also knows your exact location. Google Calendar lets Google know your schedule. Contacts lets Google know who you are connected to. If you use Google photos, Google knows what you look like, what you take pictures of, and more. If use an Android phone, Google knows even more about you. You probably don’t even want to know, but if you do, this is their privacy policy.

You are Google’s product. Google makes money off of you. Google sells you to advertisers. Their business model is to make money through ads. That is why they exist and their purpose. They have lots of neat features and services, but just because their services don’t cost money doesn’t mean they don’t have a cost. They cost you your privacy.

Our recommendations

From a privacy standpoint, anything besides Chrome is a spectacular choice. Any privacy-friendly option is an even better step in the right direction. Firefox is a great option for both mobile and desktop. Their containers extension is great for privacy. Firefox is open source and the product of a non-profit. For mobile, DuckDuckGo, Firefox Focus, or another browser that lets you easily delete all cookies is great for private searches or private browsing. While Tor is great for extreme anonymity, it can’t be used at every site.

Determine the different situations when you use a browser. Do you need to stay logged in to some sites? Do you want to be able to search or browse anonymously?

Look for a balance between a mainstream browser, which offers lots of options and support, and a more obscure, privacy-friendly browser.

Make an informed, deliberate decision instead of the default or most popular option.

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