Which Is the Best Browser for Privacy in 2020

More than 60% of people use Google Chrome as their browser. But is it the most private way to access the internet? Seeing how most of your interactions with the internet happen via web browsers, it would be smart to choose the one that provides the best privacy and security. So which browser is best for privacy in 2022?

How we choose the best browser for privacy

For our evaluation of web browsers, we used privacy and security metrics* proposed by Surfshark’s Information Security Team.

  • Is the developer a non-profit? Non-profits don’t have a financial incentive driving them, so they have less reason  to squeeze money out of users by collecting and selling their data or doing anything similar. 
  • Does the browser warn you about website add-ons? Website add-ons can be both malicious and suspicious – and you want a secure browser that can catch them before they do any damage. 
  • Can you disable loading scripts? Choosing to disable loading scripts can break some websites, but it also makes you more secure against attacks. 
  • Does it block fingerprinting? If you want the website to display correctly, your browser has to send some data to it, like your screen resolution, OS, and location. This becomes your digital fingerprint used to track you online. 
  • Does it block malware/phishing? A secure browser will draw on lists of known malware and phishing addresses to automatically block them. 
  • Is it open-source? Open-source allows security experts and other nerds to look into the browser’s code and see if the developer had baked in any malicious functions – or left severe security gaps. 
  • Does it scan downloads? Even the files you download voluntarily could be dangerous. 
  • Does it have an integrated ad blocker w/ tracking prevention? You can install extensions and add-ons for ad blocking and tracking prevention, but it’s safer and more convenient if the browser does it natively. 
  • Can you toggle deleting browsing history and cookies after every session? While cleaning history and cookies after a session is an excellent way to keep tracking at bay and maintain privacy, not everyone might want that by default. 

*We’re not using private browsing mode as one of the metrics since practically every browser has it these days. 

Choose the best browser for privacy

1. Brave

  • Is the developer a non-profit? No
  • Does the browser warn you about website add-ons? Yes
  • Can you disable loading scripts? Yes
  • Does it block fingerprinting? Yes
  • Does it block malware/phishing? Yes
  • Is it open-source? Yes 
  • Does it scan downloads? No
  • Does it have an integrated ad block w/ tracking prevention? Yes
  • Can you toggle cleaning history and cookies after every session? Yes

Brave was launched in 2016 by some of the key people that had previously worked on Mozilla Firefox. Its standout feature is the Brave Rewards System that gives users Basic Attention Tokens (BATs) for viewing “privacy-respecting” ads and then tips those tokens to websites and creators, who can turn them into money. It also now includes Debouncing, which prevents tracking users by bouncing them to a tracking domain before letting them reach their intended online destination. 

However, Brave has come under fire recently, mostly for crypto-related reasons. First was Brave pocketing donations of BATs to creators that hadn’t opted-in for their program – this was eventually fixed. The second issue arose when people noticed Brave adding affiliate links to cryptocurrency URLs that users entered. Brave claimed this happened due to a bug in the autocomplete function and has since fixed it. There was also the issue in January 2021 with Brave Tor window leaking DNS, but it has been fixed too. 

Recommended: If the controversies and blockchain don’t matter to you, yes.

2. Mozilla Firefox

  • Is the developer a non-profit? Yes
  • Does the browser warn you about website add-ons? Yes
  • Can you disable loading scripts? Yes
  • Does it block fingerprinting? Yes
  • Does it block malware/phishing? Yes
  • Is it open-source? Yes 
  • Does it scan downloads? Yes
  • Does it have an integrated ad block w/ tracking prevention? No
  • Can you toggle cleaning history and cookies after every session? Yes

Mozilla Firefox launched 18 years ago and has always been among the top choices when it comes to private browsers. Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization that owns the Mozilla Corporation, a subsidiary which develops the browser. Funding is mostly received via contracts with corporations like Google for the default search engine position. 

Mozilla doesn’t block ads by default, but it has many extensions that do – even the official website tells you so. In 2021, it introduced SmartBlock, which aims to prevent cross-site tracking without breaking websites by replacing the tracking script with their own stand-ins. It’s not ad blocking, but tracking protection is a big step forward. 

Recommended: Yes.

3. Tor Browser

  • Is the developer a non-profit? Yes
  • Does the browser warn you about website add-ons? Yes
  • Can you disable loading scripts? Yes
  • Does it block fingerprinting? Yes
  • Does it block malware/phishing? No
  • Is it open-source? Yes 
  • Does it scan downloads? No
  • Does it have an integrated ad block w/ tracking prevention? Yes
  • Can you toggle cleaning history and cookies after every session? Yes

The Tor Browser was announced in 2008, and it’s the main method of using the Tor network for private browsing with increased security and anonymity. It’s based on a customized Firefox base, and while it supports installing extensions, users are advised not to. This would compromise the browser’s security, and Tor Browser aims to keep the user secure and private at all costs.

The big downside of Tor Browser is that the Tor Network is very slow. It’s not great for media consumption, and the developers are asking people not to use torrents with Tor. 

More than that, the Tor network is based on anonymous volunteer nodes, and it has been discovered that 23% of Tor exit nodes are owned by a single user who uses it to steal cryptocurrency. Another shocking discovery came in 2021: hundreds of nodes may have been run in a single de-anonymization effort

Recommended: If you don’t care about the exit node issues, yes. 

4. DuckDuckGo

  • Is the developer a non-profit? No
  • Does the browser warn you about website add-ons? No
  • Can you disable loading scripts? No
  • Does it block fingerprinting? Yes
  • Does it block malware/phishing? No
  • Is it open-source? Yes 
  • Does it scan downloads? No
  • Does it have an integrated ad block w/ tracking prevention? Yes
  • Can you toggle cleaning history and cookies after every session? Yes

DuckDuckGo was launched in 2008. The search engine for private browsing is now available as a browser add-on for desktops, as well as standalone mobile browsers. Each website gets a rating on its privacy (including policies), and you can easily see what trackers were blocked. It also enforces secure HTTPS-encrypted connection if it’s available. 

Mobile users can currently participate in the betas for their app tracker blocking service and private email program (which involves not only a mail forwarding service that strips emails of trackers, but also an @duck.com email) 

How does DuckDuckGo earn money? From their advertising affiliates. The creators claim that the ads shown to you when searching for stuff online will be tailored to that search only. So there are no persistent tracking ads. The browser also allows you to purge history and cookies at any moment.

Recommended: If you care about privacy more than security on your phone, then yes.

5. Vivaldi 

  • Is the developer a non-profit? No
  • Does the browser warn you about website add-ons? Yes
  • Can you disable loading scripts? Yes
  • Does it block fingerprinting? Yes
  • Does it block malware/phishing? Yes
  • Is it open-source? No
  • Does it scan downloads? No
  • Does it have an integrated ad block w/ tracking prevention? Yes
  • Can you toggle cleaning history and cookies after every session? Yes

Vivaldi isn’t a new browser, as it has a history stretching back to 2015. And though it didn’t start strong, years of gradual improvement have made it a contender, especially for privacy and customization-focused users. In fact, customizing which features you want to have is core to the Vivaldi experience. There’s also the browser’s dedication to privacy, from in-build tracking prevention down to the in-app translation tool that doesn’t transmit the text anywhere, to not carrying out user behavior tracking. And just like with everything else, the security settings can be tweaked a lot.

Developed by a lot of former Opera staffers, Vivaldi is free. It finances itself via deals with search engine providers (they get money if you use the pre-installed ones) and websites that provide the default bookmarks (like eBay). Where it gets tricky is the open-source status. It’s not explicitly open-source, but it is a Chromium-based browser that the developers claim is freely auditable.

Recommended: Yes. 

But why can’t I use Chrome/Edge/Safari?

Many of the popular browsers are good when it comes to usability. They have features that provide a lot of ease of life – but you also have privacy tradeoffs. Your data is worth a lot of money, and their developers aren’t non-profits. Therefore, your regular browsers may have difficulty keeping up when it comes to privacy – if they’re interested in that at all. 

Here are the issues with the most prominent named browsers:

Google Chrome

Google Chrome has file download scanning, malware blacklists, and so on. In exchange, you are being wrung for information by Google, especially if you have logged into Chrome. And that’s the price you’re paying to use the browser.

If you’re OK with that, you’ll be glad to learn that Google keeps updating the browser with features that will make it harder for non-Google-affiliated entities to track you. 

Safari

It’s the default browser for Apple users… and nobody else. Safari is actually not that bad – it even ditched the faulty Do Not Track technology when it turned out that it wasn’t working and even enabled other tracking types.

But while Safari joins the ranks of browsers that tell you that you’re being tracked, it is still not an open-source project. It also belongs to one of the biggest tech companies in the world… which was compromised by the NSA. Then again, it’s possible that Apple collects very little, so it all depends on your personal choice.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft’s default browser replacement for Internet Explorer uses Chromium, so it’s at least based on open-source tech. And that’s where the upsides end. 

Scientists have evaluated Edge to be among the least privacy-respecting mainline browsers. More than that, Microsoft is using techniques that have been called “malware-like” to push Edge on their users. That’s not a great look for a browser that was plagued with privacy issues basically from the word “go.”

Opera

Opera offers quite a few features – even Mozilla’s own comparison shows that Opera only lags behind by not having social tracking blockers. However, Opera isn’t open-source (even if it’s based on Chromium), isn’t operated by a non-profit, and was recently purchased by a Chinese tech giant. That’s the one country with more issues with respecting online privacy than even the US. 

Oh, and the free Opera VPN it comes bundled with? Basically, a proxy that also collects your data.

Privacy beyond browsers 

It turns out that it’s not that easy to find the best browser for privacy. And even then, are you really secure on the net? Yeah, it’s not easy to find the best browser for privacy without testing browser security yourself. But it is well worth the effort. 

Plus, you can always enhance your privacy even further – download a VPN and secure all the data that leaves your device. Surfshark VPN is just the thing – and it will work on any platform your privacy browser can support. It even has browser extensions that work with Brave, Firefox, and Chrome. 

Plus, with Surfshark, you can use Surfshark Search as your search engine for private browsing. It doesn’t collect any data about your browsing habits, so you’ll always have the most unbiased search results. And that’s even nicer than not having to go to the second page on Google search.

Get VPN for privacy outside of browsers!

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FAQ

Can private browsing mode be tracked?

Yes, because private browsing only covers tracks on your own device. It does nothing to prevent websites from gathering data about you. 

What percentage of people use what browser?

Here are the most popular browsers by user percentage:

Google Chrome
63.06%
Safari
19.84%
Mozilla Firefox
4.18%
Microsoft Edge
4.12%
Samsung Internet
2.89%
Opera
2.33%

Source

Is Firefox a Chinese app?

No. Mozilla Corporation (which develops Firefox) is headquartered in California, and so is the Mozilla Foundation (which owns the Mozilla Corporation). Mozilla China is a subsidiary of Mozilla Corporation. 

Who owns Firefox?

Mozilla Corporation, a for-profit corporation, develops Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla Corporation was founded and is owned by Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization established to run the open-source Mozilla project. Is this confusing? Yes.