Use a privacy-focused web browser and prevent web trackers

When you browse the web, you can be sure that someone is tracking your activities. It is hard, maybe impossible to completely avoid all tracking, but it can be minimized to increase privacy.

Who tracks you on the web and why? Visit a website and it will be noted by the site and they count the number of visitors, count which pages are viewed so the owner can tell which are the most popular or unpopular, and so on. This is harmless and it can lead to site improvements like more of the articles that are popular and fewer of the ones that are not.

A site looks to see whether someone is a member and logged in, or whether they are just a visitor. If you have an account at a site, such as a membership site or discussion forums, you will be recognized and you will not have to log in again. These tracking activities are harmless and are actually useful. Members will not be pestered to log in each time they visit for example.

Not all tracking activities are desirable though and some services track you across websites as you browse the web. They can see which websites you visit, how many pages you visit and so on. You may wish that there was some way to avoid the worst kind of tracking. It is mostly done through third-party cookies, but there are other ways to track you.

Some web browsers offer better privacy than others and one of the least private browsers is the most popular in the world, Chrome. It offers little for those wishing privacy and there are alternatives that are much more private that Google’s browser.

Microsoft Edge privacy

Microsoft Edge, the Chrome-based version, not the original Windows 10 version, offers four levels of privacy protection when browsing the web and it is a useful privacy-focused browser that performs like Chrome, but you can block tracking technologies.

Microsoft Edge privacy and tracking prevention features
Microsoft Edge tracking prevention

Open the browser menu with the three dots in the top right corner and select Settings. Click Privacy, search, services in the sidebar and there is a Tracking prevention switch. No protection is provided at all when the switch is turned off, but turn it on and there is a choice of Basic, Balanced and Strict.

The Strict setting might prevent some websites from working and it depends which sites you use. It is worth trying this setting because it offers the most privacy, but if you have problems with websites, drop down to the Balanced setting, which blocks most trackers or add the site as an exception.

The Basic setting is designed to provide the greatest compatibility with websites, but it also limits some tracking. It offers a bit of privacy by blocking the most obvious trackers.

Below this is an option to use the Strict setting whenever an InPrivate window is opened. This makes InPrivate browsing even more private.

Opera privacy

Like a lot of alternative web browsers, Opera is based on Chrome, but it adds its own features and it offers much more privacy than Google’s browser. It only has a small share of the browser market, but being Chrome based, the performance and capabilities are almost the same.

Opera browser privacy features
Opera browser privacy protection

Click Menu in the top left corner of the Opera window and select Settings. Select the Basic section in the sidebar and on the right is Block ads and Block Trackers. Turn both switches on and the browser becomes much more private and possibly faster too, since no ads or trackers appear.

Click Manage exceptions below ads or trackers and sites can be added where they can be allowed. Most sites are OK, but occasionally you come across one that does not work as it should. It can be added as an exception. Click Manage lists and you can choose where it gets its blocking information from. The default settings are fine, but experts can customize the sources.

Scroll down to the bottom of settings and click Advanced. More settings appear and among them is VPN. A VPN increases privacy and security by creating an encrypted connection between your browser and the internet. Combined with the tracking prevention and ad-blocking, it makes it much harder for anyone to track you or to spy on you, such as at a Wi-Fi hotspot. You should turn off the switch that bypasses the VPN for default search engines or they will track your searches.

The VPN built into Opera is limited and it is not suitable for using all the time or for anything that requires speed. It slows down the internet, but at least it is free and it does increase your privacy a bit.

Don’t lose out on performance, privacy and security, use a proper VPN service. All the browsers here are more private with a VPN and one is essential for people that value privacy. There are many VPNs it can be confusing, so here are my recommended ones (affiliate links). I’ve used two so far and will try a third when my current subscription expires.

Firefox privacy

Firefox had a chance to take over the web browser market and it grew to more than a 30% share at one stage. It isn’t clear why it stopped growing and shrank to its current 7% because it is a good browser that has useful privacy features for people that want to minimize tracking on the web.

Firefox browser privacy features
Firefox browser privacy settings

Open the menu and click Settings, followed by Privacy & Security in the sidebar. In the Enhanced Tracking Protection section are three options: Standard, Strict and Custom. The third option is the most interesting and you can choose what to allow and what to block to get the privacy you want.

There are several cookie blocking options: Cross-site cookies, Cookies from unvisited websites, All third-party cookies, and All cookies. Tracking content can be blocked in all windows or just Private windows. Instead of using cookies, which many people block, web browser fingerprinting is used to track you and Firefox has an anti-fingerprinting feature that can be enabled to combat it and maintain privacy.

Firefox has an option to force all connections to https, even if they are http. This means that old links to http pages are automatically changed to https even if the site does not change them.

Scroll down the settings to the Firefox Data Collection and Use section. Turn off the options if you don’t want to share your browsing activities with Mozilla. The privacy options in Firefox are good and it is worth using when you need privacy. It is also the only browser here not based on Chrome, which some consider to be essential for privacy.

Vivaldi privacy

Vivaldi has been around for several years and it has some innovative features, but it has had almost no impact on the web browser market and has less than 1% usage. Like most of the other alternative browsers it is just a customized version of Chrome, so there is no reason why you should not use it and it has useful privacy features.

Vivaldi browser tracking prevention options
There are more Vivaldi privacy settings elsewhere

One thing that sets Vivaldi apart from rivals is the number of customizable features in the browser settings. There are more options here than in any other browser and if you like to be in complete control, you should try it.

Open Settings on the menu and a window appears. Select Privacy in the sidebar and many options are displayed, including some that break Google services. Some might regard that blocking Google every way you can is a useful privacy feature. There are also three levels of tracking prevention to aid privacy: No Blocking, Block Trackers and Block Trackers & Ads.

Vivaldi browser privacy is OK and there are useful options to customize it, so take a look.

Avast Secure Browser privacy

Avast is best known for its anti-virus software, which is a popular choice for Windows PC users, but the company provides several security products and Avast Secure Browser is a free app based on Chrome, as many alternative browsers are these days.

Avast browser privacy and security features
There are more privacy and security modules in Avast browser

The browser has a Security & Privacy Center that can be accessed by clicking a toolbar button or through the menu. This is the best feature of the browser because it is easy to see privacy and security features and easy to enable them. There are 13 modules (more than can be seen in the screenshot), but some require additional software to be downloaded and installed, like Avast Antivirus for example.

The privacy features are built in and there is an ad blocker that has four levels of protection. Off, Essential, Balanced and Strict. Adverts and the cookies they store can impact your privacy, so blocking them is useful. The Essential setting just blocks disruptive ads and popups and allows good ads, whereas Strict blocks almost everything.

This browser has anti-fingerprinting features that prevent you from being tracked due to the unique nature of the environment the browser is running in and this is obviously good for boosting privacy. Trackers are blocked and while some browsers have different levels of blocking, Avast just has an on/off switch. Turning it on stops you being tracked across websites.

An Extension Guard prevents dodgy extensions from being installed in the browser. Some bad oness have been found to spy on you and compromise your privacy, so this is a useful feature.

The Security & Privacy Center is excellent and making privacy settings obvious and easy to use means that more people will use them. Avast Secure Browser is a good choice.

Brave privacy

Brave is an interesting browser and in many ways it is excellent and it has some good privacy features. However, it also has some features you may not like. They are not forced on you and you can choose not to use them, but some people will not agree with them. For example, Brave can block adverts on websites and replace them with its own. Brave, you and websites share the income. I’m not sure many websites would like their ads replaced.

Brave browser privacy settings
Brave browser privacy options

Ignoring that, let’s look at the privacy features. Open the menu, go to Settings and in the Shields section are some useful privacy features. There are three settings for ads and trackers, Disabled, Standard and Aggressive. It can automatically upgrade http connections to https for extra privacy and security if https is available.

It has cross-site cookie blocking, which is standard, but the fingerprinting blocking has three levels: Disabled, Standard and Strict. It doesn’t say what the difference is between Standard and Strict, but it does say that Strict may cause problems with some websites.

It has some interesting social media blocking options and it can block Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn embedded posts, which can be used to track you. It can also block Google and Facebook logins, which also track you.

All browsers offer a private browsing window and so does Brave. However, it also has a Tor-based private browsing window that is even more private by hiding your IP address. It does not provide the same degree of anonymity as Tor Browser, but it does provide more than a standard private window.

There are additional privacy features, some of which are more advanced and the main focus of Brave browser is privacy. It goes further than most Chrome alternatives.

Which browser is best for privacy?

Anything is better than Chrome when it comes to privacy. Well, almost anything. I tried Maxathon, but I didn’t notice anything that was not in Chrome. All the browsers listed here at least offer tracking prevention which stops advertisers and others from following you from website to website and third-party cookie blocking. Some offer even more privacy features.

Microsoft Edge is convenient if you are a Windows user (it works on the Mac too) and it offers more privacy than Chrome, on which it is built. You can choose the level of tracker blocking and block third-party cookies. It is not the most private browser though.

Firefox is good if you worry about what Google might be doing behind the scenes with Chrome-based browsers because it is not based on Chrome. It has a Protections Dashboard that shows how many trackers have been blocked, privacy features that can be customised and crypto mining and fingerprinting protection. Its privacy features are good, making this the best browser if you want to completely avoid Google.

The best browser for privacy is Brave, which has a good collection of privacy features in the settings and it does more to protect your anonymity than other browsers. It has a good range of configuration options for configuring privacy, a Tor-based private browsing window that hides your IP address, and some advanced features. I’m not convinced by the Brave Rewards feature, but it can be ignored.

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