Your web browser tracks every search query and mouse click. Sadly, online surfing isn’t private by default. Sure, you can add a few tweaks to hide your online habits and make your digital experience safer. That said, it would be so much better to have a browser with built-in features that cover your back.
I’ve compiled the following list of the most private and secure internet browsers, so you can compare and contrast and choose the best for your needs.
First, let’s discuss the features that make a browser private and secure.
What Makes a Browser Really Private and Secure?
Privacy and security could fall on a wide spectrum with some browsers being very strict and others more forgiving. Like at your home, you might choose a fence only or couple it with an intruder alarm. Browsers employ different measures to achieve their privacy and security levels. Some browsers choose to use a few; others use a full range of protective measures.
Don’t compromise when it comes to online safety. Check every browser and determine to what extent it protects your online data.
Just keep in mind that no private browser excludes online tracking 100%! The more features a browser uses, the better you’ll reduce your online trail and the chances of being traced.
Top 6 Private and Secure Browsers in 2021
1. Brave – Out-of-the-Box Privacy with a Touch of Eerie Online Ads
Built with privacy in mind, Brave is a user-friendly Chromium-based browser. On iOS, Brave relies on WebKit, the open-source foundation that powers Apple’s Safari browser.
Embedded with privacy and security settings, you won’t have to hustle with any customization. It supports Chrome extensions, so many believe it’s the best Chrome alternative.
By eliminating ads, Brave loads pages faster. You don’t get ad-free browsing, though. Instead, Brave introduces its own advertising system, showing a pop-up ad notification instead of the actual ad. Once you click it, a new tab opens in Brave, where the real ad content opens.
What happens to your privacy? Brave claims it doesn’t sell your data to advertisers. It uses a BAT (Basic Attention Tokens) website compensation system that depends on the time you spend viewing these ads. To exchange BAT tokens for real money, websites need a KYC (Know-Your-Customer) compliant bank account.
Brave integrates a private content feed directly into the browser. The browser orders the feed’s content based on your recent browsing activity, which the company collects using a private and encrypted proxy method. You could argue that they’re still collecting your data.
Brave also knows that your location (based on IP address) weakens your digital anonymity. That’s why they’ve provided the valuable feature that asks you for your consent before they access your location info. Brave gives you the option to click ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Even if you choose to disclose your location, Brave won’t store the IP address. However, the websites you visit can still see your IP address.
Brave incorporates 4 out of the 5 features mentioned, so you enjoy multi-feature protection. You also get to control its location access. Brave has sugar-coated data collection and ad generation, though, so your data isn’t as private as you’d expect.
2. Vivaldi Browser – A Highly Customizable Browser That Adapts to Your Needs
Vivaldi is another Chromium-based browser. It promises to provide a user-friendly experience, while integrating several customization options and adapting to your browsing habits. Vivaldi allows you to control how it arranges browser tabs using its unique tab management feature.
The default private theme allows you to choose and customize unique displays for regular and private browsing windows. Vivaldi also states that it doesn’t log your search requests or browsing history. Last, the browser doesn’t target you with ads since your data isn’t traceable.
For online security, Vivaldi has pulled in safety pinches to the URL in the address bar. That serves to spot fake websites that can facilitate online scams. Vivaldi also boasts one of its most beneficial features, the built-in tracker blocker.
The blocker helps you avoid unnecessary tracking and data collection.
One privacy threat is access to your geolocation through partly cropping your IP address. Vivaldi explains that the intent is to optimize your experience based on your language and country. The company adds that determining your geolocation doesn’t mean pinpointing your exact location.
Vivaldi optimized its ad-blocking and tracking features, ensuring no one’s tracking your every move. You get more control over how the browser handles your data than Brave. They suffer from a weak spot through security vulnerabilities and location tracking.
3. Tor – Best Known Anonymous Browser Endorsed by Privacy Fans
The Tor browser offers you online privacy and encrypted communications in layers. As its onion logo suggests, Tor has a connection method called onion routing. Your communication undergoes triple-layer encryption before reaching its destination.
To get there, this encapsulated message passes through onion routers or computers on the network. Each computer then peels each encryption layer until the message is fully decrypted.
That’s a long way to go compared to a typical browser connection with the messaging from your computer directly to the server. If prying eyes check your network, they can’t find out which server you’re communicating with.
Tor did manage to lose some of its fans when a 2015 disclosure revealed that the US government and military had funded, at least partly, the technology behind Tor to protect its agents and informants while they shared information.
Tor’s promise is that you’ll enjoy real private browsing, tracking, surveillance, or censorship free. Tor Project (which includes the Tor browser) argues it’s more than just a privacy software. The company positions itself as a product built with the help of a global community defending ‘privacy as a human right’.
Having a free and open source, Tor welcomes anyone who wants to modify and improve the code. Tor aims to maintain transparency, posting all their releases and development projects while not specifically publishing a transparency report. The company covers a pervasive support page where you can find the answers to many questions related to Tor browser privacy, security, and frequent issues and concerns.
The Tor guys take privacy and security seriously. You’ll enjoy top privacy and security features using the Tor browser. All those features come at a cost: slow speed.
4. Firefox – The Forefront of Web Browser Security
Mozilla’s Firefox popularity has been steadily increasing over the last few years due to its privacy developments and protections.
More to like about Firefox is that Mozilla, its parent company, updates it frequently, and it’s open-source. You also can customize it and set up your desired level of privacy.
Mozilla publishes a bi-annual transparency report revealing the types of government demands the company receives for user data or to remove content. The reports also cover individual or company requests to remove content based on copyright or trademark claims.
Firefox’s premium feature is granting access to your data, giving you full control to delete it. Performance issues are a bummer though.
5. Iridium Browser – The Equally User-Friendly but Safer Version of Chrome
If you love Chrome but wish it was more private, Iridium might be what you’re searching for.
Though it shares almost identical source code and features to Chrome, it was specifically built to be a more private and safe version of Chrome. The only big difference is that it excludes the usual Chrome bloatware.
The Chromium-based Iridium browser has similar Chrome features and even supports many plug-ins from the Chrome Web Store. Compared to its counterpart, Iridium shows improved security since it comes with the privacy-friendly Qwant as the default search engine. You can also choose DuckDuckGo as the default search engine.
Iridium’s defaults help maintain privacy and security. You also get to disable autofill. That shows the company isn’t as transparent as its competitors.
6. Epic – A Seemingly Tracking-Free Online Experience
Epic takes your privacy seriously, so they say! That’s why the browser sets your online searches via DuckDuckGo right from the start.
Epic routes all web traffic through an encrypted proxy server, meaning it automatically blocks trackers and cookies. While surfing with Epic, you won’t enjoy any auto-syncing, spell-check, or auto-fill. That may seem like a downside to an easy, breezy browsing experience, but these traits are, in fact, first-class privacy features.
On a positive note, it says that even if their browser is built on Chromium, it removes all Google tracking and services. Epic also doesn’t store user, personal, browsing, or other data due to their encrypted proxy web service.
That extensive browser list offers suitable choices no matter what privacy and security level you need. It also might have got you thinking, “I’ve never heard of most of these browsers”. Where do the more popular browsers like Edge, Chrome, or Opera rank in terms of privacy and security?
5 Additional Browsers Ranking High on Security but Falling Short on Privacy
The browsers we’ve seen so far rank high on both privacy and security. These definitely aren’t the only browsers out there. Many take online security very seriously but lack as much concern for privacy.Let’s drill them down.
1. Microsoft Edge – Presumably the Better Version of Internet Explorer
Running on a Chromium system, Edge covers basic and not necessarily helpful privacy and security features. It allows you to make your own privacy adjustments like blocking pop-ups and sending “Do Not Track” requests. The Cortana integration could also come in handy if you’re used to Siri or other virtual assistants. That’s just another means for the company to collect data.
- Offers phishing detection systems
- Delivers extra website authentication
- Prevents malicious browser exploits using sandbox process architecture
- Falls short on frequent updates
- Isn’t open source
- Lacks transparency
Edge takes your security into their hands, protecting you against phishing attacks. For privacy, it hands over the reins to you. You could choose how private your browsing gets, but the good part is they give you a guide to navigate ramping up your browser’s privacy.
2. Opera – The Once Private Browser, Now Gobbling Up Users’ Data
Opera had a good reputation for its privacy features. Recently, though, the browser came under scrutiny after a Chinese company acquired it in 2016. Some thought the country’s slack laws on privacy and security would spillover to the company’s privacy policies.
- Provides a built-in ad blocker
- Includes a one-click private data eraser
- Displays Phishing alerts
- Provides a malware detection system
- Supports add-ons from the Chrome library
- Updates every 4 to 5 weeks
- Delivers a built-in free VPN service
- Supports browser third-party tools
- Integrates social media platforms
As an extra or a bonus feature, free VPNs aren’t usually reliable. They may imply online tracking or that the browser may be keeping connection logs. Third-party tools could mean that Opera shares your data with third parties and collects and monitors your data.
In its latest update from 2021, Opera integrated messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, and Telegram. For some, it could sound like a convenient trait, but it could turn out as another way to capture more personal data.
Opera is pretty transparent when it comes to crash logs. The site collects crash logs (including IP addresses) and keeps them for up to six months.
Opera’s partnerships and integrations pose a privacy threat. At least, they plainly say it, allowing you to accept their policies or not.
3. Chrome – Utmost Security at The Expense of Privacy
No browser beats Chrome’s popularity, especially since its name is attached to Google. Yet, based on the same affiliation, everybody knows that Chrome and the concept of private browsing don’t make a good match.
Google notoriously collects your data, tracks you, and engages in several privacy violations. That’s complemented by the data syncing tools it offers to developers, like Google Analytics, Google News, or Google Maps. Chrome also has surveillance software written all over it.
What Chrome lacks in privacy, it makes up for in security. It’s hard to defeat Chrome when it comes to security.
- Gets frequent updates
- Ensures full exploit protection
- Displays targeted ads
- Isn’t open-source
- Connects to Google Location Services
- Customizes your browsing experience
To improve on privacy, Google encourages and asks you to find and report browser vulnerabilities, which are often patched with automatic updates.
Google also tracks your preferred languages for reading websites, linking it to your Google Account, Google Web & App Activity, and other Google products.
Chrome has you covered on security, but when it comes to privacy, it fails big time.
4. Chromium – The Perfect Browser for Techies
Chromium serves as the base code for Chrome and other browsers.
You can use Chromium as a regular browser, but it’s intended for advanced tech users and web developers. At its heart, Google built Chromium to help developers craft their own browser using the Chromium structure.
Chromium gets top score for security, but for providing anonymity it falls under Chrome’s umbrella. It’s safe to assume that Chromium collects just as much data on you as Chrome does.
Chromium still depends on some of Google’s web services, search queries, emails, or map locations -all associated with your Google account.
How does Chromium compare to Chrome? It has some additional positives but the negatives are the same.
- Updates more frequently than Chrome
- Warns you when visiting an unsecured website
- Enables website protection
- Displays targeted ads
- Isn’t open-source
It’s just another Chrome. Though some privacy features are a step up from Chrome, they still fall short compared to other browsers.
5. Safari – When Private Browsing Could Become a Surveillance Method
Apple’s pre-installed browser does a good job of protecting your online security. Apple backs it; so you enjoy the support from a company that regularly enforces its efforts to give you as much privacy as possible.
Safari gets regular updates, and starting with iOS 14.5, Apple has introduced a new privacy feature by changing how Safari accesses Google’s Safe Browsing service. The feature warns you when you visit a fraudulent website. Safari also includes Intelligent Tracking Prevention, a technology that limits how much uniquely identifiable information websites can use to track you.
- Offers a password generator
- Uses DuckDuckGo by default in private browsing mode
- Suffers from Apple’s privacy breaching reputation
Safari is backed by Apple, so it enjoys top security features. On privacy, like other browsers, labelling tracking as intelligent or anything else won’t change the fact they do allow tracking. It would probably be best to take Apple’s claims of providing utmost privacy when browsing with Safari with a pinch of salt.
Fill in the Privacy and Security Gaps with a VPN – The Best Option for True Anonymity
Using a private browser is a great way to reduce your digital footprint and protect your digital identity. It may not be enough, though. For every advanced security feature they offer, you’ll have to sacrifice privacy in some regard – or vice versa. To plug up these holes, I recommended protecting your browser with a premium VPN like CyberGhost. This way you’ll have the complete digital anonymity you were looking for. You’ll be able to surf anonymously – no matter which browser you choose – and you’ll secure all your web activities and communications.
I can’t end without going over some key built-in extras that CyberGhost VPN comes loaded with.
Digital Identity Protection
When you connect to the CyberGhost VPN, we get you started on a private path by replacing your true IP address with one from our servers. This way, no third party can identify your location. With an active VPN on your device, your online traffic gets sent through a secure tunnel to communicate with our servers to keep your data safe on any browser.
Bulletproof Encryption Technology
CyberGhost VPN protects your internet-connected devices with end-to-end security. Fast and reliable security protocols, along with military-grade AES 256-bit encryption render anything you say or do online indecipherable. This means you can browse the web with peace of mind knowing advertisers, governments, your ISP, and cybercriminals won’t be able to intercept or read your internet communications.
Strict No-Logs Policy
We enforce an ironclad No-Logs policy, meaning we never store any data about you or your online activities. We’ve even designed our servers to delete all data every time we reboot them. On top of that, we’re headquartered in Romania, a privacy-friendly country that is not a member of any data sharing alliances. This means no one can force us to share your data locally or internationally. Anyway, we can’t share information we don’t have.
Automatic Kill Switch
The online experience you’ll get with a premium VPN like CyberGhost is seamless and reliable. In the rare event your connection ever drops, though, our automatic kill switch disconnects your computer, phone, or tablet from the internet until the VPN resets. That way your digital activity remains private, and you won’t be exposed to any data leaks.
A User-Friendly Private Browser
CyberGhost VPN also created a Private Browser, so you can peruse the internet anonymously. With our private browser, you’ll be able to avoid any Google data collection while enjoying a faster and smoother browsing experience. You can even automatically delete all your browsing session data in just one click.
The Bottom Line
It doesn’t take a minute to find the perfect browser for you, but the time investment is worth it. Each browser has its perks, so decide what features you don’t want to compromise on, and choose accordingly.
Don’t go for a browser simply because other people use it, or because it comes pre-installed on your device. Convenient and free digital services come at a high cost, with your digital identity serving as the currency.
Carefully check each browser’s privacy features but also have a closer look at the fine print. Terms and conditions and privacy policies can often reveal the true nature of official claims.
To ensure your browser is 100% private and secure, lock it up with a VPN and avoid online tracking altogether.
Is private browsing mode really private?
No. No private browser offers complete online privacy or anonymity. Using private browsing or incognito mode, you only hide browsing history, cookies, and site data. Websites can still track you through other methods, like fingerprinting.
Can anyone see my private browser?
Yes. Web services, websites, applications, search engines, and your internet provider can see your web activity and IP address when using a private browser.
Can someone trace me in private mode?
When you’re on a private browser, your activity passes through servers that others can store or track, like your system administrator on your corporate network. Your computer also stores part of your browsing activity which can be tracked and traced.
If I delete my search history, can someone still see it?
Yes. When you’re deleting your search history, you’re simply removing (deleting) data stored locally on your computer. That only deletes the list of the websites and pages you visited. Your browser still keeps records about the way you use online content and your browsing habits. This data is stored on the browser’s servers.
Can someone see my internet history if I’m using their Wi-Fi?
Yes. Modern Wi-Fi routers can track the internet history of those who use the Wi-Fi network. That means the Wi-Fi owners can see what websites you visit and online details like passwords used for logins or financial details used for online transactions.
Can my internet provider see what I search for?
Yes. In most countries, the law forces ISPs to log and store connection data for each customer. ISPs can track which websites you visit, how long you spend on them, the content you watch, the device you’re using, and your geographic location.
Did you ever use one of the private browsers from our list above? What was the reason why you chose it?
Let me know in the comments below.