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It's time to switch to a privacy browser

There's a new battleground in the browser wars: user privacy. Firefox just made its Enhanced Tracking Protection a default feature, Apple continues to pile privacy-focused features into its Safari browser, and people are more aware than ever before of the sort of information they can reveal every time they set a digital footprint on the web.

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If you want to push back against online tracking, you've got several options to pick from when choosing a default browser. These are the browsers that put user privacy high on the list of their priorities.

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DuckDuckGo (Android, iOS, browser extension)

You might know DuckDuckGo as the anti-Google search engine, but it's also branched out to make its own mobile browsers for Android and iOS. Not only do they keep you better protected online, they give you plenty of information about what they're blocking. DuckDuckGo starts by enforcing encrypted HTTPS connections when websites offer them, and then gives each page you visit a grade based on how aggressively it's trying to mine your data.

To keep you anonymized online, DuckDuckGo blocks tracking cookies that are able to identify you and your device, and even scans and ranks sites' privacy policies. You can clear tabs and data automatically at the end of each session, or you can wipe this data manually with a single tap. You can even set a timer to automatically clear out your history after a period of inactivity.

The browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox do a very similar job, so you don't have to abandon your favourite desktop browser to take advantage of DuckDuckGo's tight privacy controls. Again, the extensions rank sites for their privacy features, and block attempts to track your activities online.

What really appeals about the DuckDuckGo apps and browser extensions is how simple they are to use. You don't really need to do anything except install them, so it's a good pick for getting maximum protection with minimal effort.

Ghostery (Android, iOS, browser extension)

Get Ghostery for Android or iOS installed, and straight away it gets to work blocking adverts and tracking cookies that will attempt to keep tabs on what you're up to on the web.

Like DuckDuckGo's mobile apps, the Ghostery browser tells you exactly which trackers it's blocking, and how many monitoring tools each website has installed—if you find certain sites that are well-behaved, you can mark them as trusted with a tap.

Or, if you find a site that's packed full of tracking technology, you can block every single bit of cookie technology on it (for commenting systems, media players and so on), even if the site might break as a result.

Ghostery also develops an extension that works with just about every desktop browser out there—again, you can view the trackers on each site you visit, then take appropriate action on them or let Ghostery decide and its AI smarts decide what needs blocking.

Ghostery's tools are a little more in-depth and advanced than the ones offered by DuckDuckGo, so you might consider it if you want to take extra control over which trackers are blocked on which sites.

Tor Browser (Android, Windows, macOS)

Tor Browser stands for browsing "without tracking, surveillance, or censorship" and is worth a look if you want the ultimate in anonymized, tracker-free browsing—unless you're on iOS, where it isn't yet available.

The browser app for Android, Windows and macOS is actually part of a bigger project to keep internet browsing anonymous. The Tor Project routes your web navigation through a complex, encrypted network of relays managed by its community, making it much harder for anyone else to work out where you're going on the web. 

As well as this additional layer of anonymity, Tor Browser is super-strict on the sort of background scripts and tracking technologies sites are allowed to run. It also blocks fingerprinting, a method where advertisers attempt to recognize the unique characteristics of your device across multiple sites, even if they can't tell exactly who you are.

At the end of each browsing session, everything gets wiped, including cookies left behind by sites and the browsing history inside the Tor Browser app itself. In other words, private browsing mode is the default.

Because of the extra encryption and anonymity measures, Tor Browser can run slightly slower than other browsers, but in terms of staying invisible on the web, it's the best there is. It can even help you get online in countries where the internet is blocked or censored.

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