Boost privacy and security when browsing the web on your phone by using an alternative web browser instead of the built in one. Private browsers prevent tracking and hide your identity.
We all know how much your online activities are tracked whenever you use the web and wherever you go, someone wants to track you, analyze you, and know everything about you. People are fighting back by using privacy tools that hide their identity, stop the tracking codes hidden in web pages and adverts, hide their location and limit the amount of data they share.
One of the ways to reduce tracking by online companies is to use a web browser that specifically blocks ads, trackers, location and so on. There are several available, but sadly, the most popular web browser is not one of them. Chrome on a phone does very little to limit tracking. Safari is better, but far from perfect and still falls short when complete anonymity is desired.
Most alternative browsers use privacy as a selling point and it is hard to choose between them because they all seem to offer similar privacy and security features. Here I have chosen a couple of web browsers for Android phones and iPhones that go that little bit further and include a free VPN, which is another great privacy and security feature.
A VPN hides your IP address which uniquely identifies you, hides your location and makes it seem like you are located elsewhere, like a foreign country, and encrypts the internet connection so that no-one can see what you do, which is useful for making public Wi-Fi hotspots private.
Be aware that a VPN in a browser only protects web browsing, so it is limited. A full VPN app protects all internet activity in all apps no matter how they access the internet. Here are some recommended VPN services for phones and computers that provide all-round protection. Let’s get back to mobile browsers.
Avast Secure Browser
Avast Secure Browser is available on Android and iOS in the app stores, although I found the Android version to be much better. This may be due to rules, permissions and limitations in the Apple App Store and the iOS app just didn’t work as well. The Android app is excellent. Avast Secure Browser is almost identical to AVG Secure Browser because AVG is part of Avast these days, so anything said about one also applies to the other.
The mobile browser has different modes and Secure Mode is the one that is used the most for browsing the web. It blocks adverts and trackers, and sends a Do Not Track request to websites. It has a VPN, which can be turned on or off as you prefer and browsing data can be kept or cleared when you quit the browser.
For free, the VPN only works in one location, so for me, it is London, UK, but if you are in the US, it will be a US server. This is good enough to increase security and privacy when browsing the web, but it will not allow you to pretend to be in another country. However, a monthly or annual subscription opens up many VPN servers around the world if you want to make it seem you are located elsewhere. I used the app in free mode.
There is a Secure & Private browsing mode, which is basically like Chrome’s incognito mode (most other alternative browsers are based on Chrome). This has all the security and privacy features turned up to the max. In addition to the usual anti-tracking features, there is Secure DNS over TLS and there is a choice of DNS providers, including Cloudflare, Tenta Secure DNS, Quad9 and others.
The default search engine can be chosen from around a dozen and privacy can be increased by avoiding Google, Yahoo! and Bing and using others like OneSearch, StartPage and DuckDuckGo.
Tests at Cover Your Tracks and other places showed that Avast Secure browser is very private. You are not invisible, but you are anonymous on the web. The VPN, although limited to one location for free, is fast and works well as a privacy and security booster.
Opera browser has been around since the early days of the web, but has never grown much of a market share. It is mostly down in the single digits. However, these days it is based on Chrome, so it can handle any web content Chrome can handle and is just as fast. This is a slick and responsive browser.
There are several variations and the Opera app has the most security and privacy features. However, it is Android only and iOS only has Opera Touch, which is a great browser, but it does not have the free VPN that is included in Opera. Once again, Android is better than iOS in this respect.
The free VPN in Opera offers three locations around the world and you can connect to America, Asia or Europe. Manual and automatic selection modes are available. That is extremely limited compared to a full VPN app, which typically has hundreds or even thousands of servers worldwide. However, it is sufficient to improve privacy and security.
The VPN is sometimes slow at peak times, but with three locations there is always one off-peak area that you can switch to provided you don’t mind where in the world you appear to be.
Opera contains ad blocking, but it is configurable and you can choose to allow acceptable ads, ones that comply with strict standards and are not annoying. It is up to you whether to allow them or to block all ads. The default search engine can be set to one of several, but the only private one is DuckDuckGo. It would be nice if there were more.
By default, Opera collects data about your browsing habits and can share anonymous statistics with others, but these can all be disabled in the app settings to boost privacy.
The app does not appear to be as private as Avast and it did not block all trackers according to sites that test these things. Privacy is very good, but not the best. Private (incognito) mode automatically clears browsing data each time you quit the app, but still, it could be better.
Avast Secure Browser is the better of the two browsers and while the Opera VPN offers three locations, Avast free VPN seemed faster whenever I tried it. Avast also blocked web trackers, which Opera allowed, so Avast is the more private browser of the two.
Android is better than iOS for private browsers with a built in VPN. If you have an iPhone, I would recommend getting a full VPN – see these great VPN offers. and Hide.Me has one of the most generous free services, with 10 GB of monthly data. I wrote about Hide.Me free VPN here. A paid VPN, see examples here, is even better of course and combined with either of the privacy-focused browsers here, would be a great privacy and security solution.