Web browser privacy on Android phone: Alternatives to Chrome

Browse the web privately on your phone: Stop tracking

Although Chrome does have some useful browser privacy features, there is always the fear that Google is monitoring everything you do online. These alternatives to Chrome are more private.

I look at six browsers here and they all run on Android phones (and on iPhone, PC, Mac). These are not the only Chrome alternatives and a search for browsers in the Google Play Store produces a list of over 200 apps. That is astonishing.

One of the reasons for this rather large number is the ease with which you can create a web browser these days. The web page rendering engine that powers Chrome can freely be used and wrapped in a custom interface. Every web page Chrome can handle, all Chrome-based browsers can handle. They are all similar in terms of capabilities.

The custom interface is where alternative browsers are different and the developer can create something completely different and add extra features. Browsers can add extra privacy features, like blocking trackers and adverts, and clearing browsing data when you quit.

The alternative browsers covered here represent only a tiny proportion of the 200+ available. However, they are the most commonly used alternatives. Let’s see what privacy features they offer.

Microsoft Edge: Web Browser

It is useful to have Edge browser on a phone if you also use it on a PC or Mac. Browser favorites (bookmarks), browsing history, passwords, open tabs and other things can be kept in sync, which makes it easy to switch from desktop to phone and back. Other browsers sync, but the whole Windows and Office universe makes it better.

Screenshot of Edge browser privacy settings on Android phone
Some of Edge browser’s privacy settings

Unlike most browsers, the menu is accessed from the bottom of the screen and there is a pull-up panel of buttons. Go to Settings > Privacy and Security and there are useful options.

Browser data can be cleared and you can choose from the last hour to all time. There are options to include browsing history, cookies and site data, cached images and files, passwords, form data and site settings.

There is also an option to automatically clear browsing data when you exit the browser using the Exit button.

Edge includes tracking prevention and there are Basic, Balanced and Strict settings. Basic allows most trackers on websites and ads are likely to be personalized, whereas Strict blocks most trackers and ads are likely to have minimal personalization. Microsoft would like to receive diagnostic data from you, but you can opt out.

In Settings > Privacy and Security > Site Permissions > Cookies are four settings, which is one more than usual. You can allow all cookies, block third party cookies InPrivate (incognito mode), block third party cookies or block all cookies.

Protected content can be set to Allowed, Ask first, or Blocked because sites may want device information before playing the content.

AdBlock Plus is built into Edge and can be enabled to block adverts on web pages. Acceptable ads can be allowed or blocked as you prefer and site exceptions can be specified. There is also an option to block ads that show intrusive or misleading ads.

Opt out of Microsoft diagnostics, enable tracking prevention, block third party cookies and ads, and you have a reasonably private web browser on your Android phone. Edge is Chrome-based, but has a unique interface and features. There is a lot to like in it.

Privacy Rating: 4/5

Ecosia Trees & Privacy

Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees. How? It puts 100% of its profits into climate action and 80% into financing tree-planting projects. Ecosia can be set as the default search engine in browsers, there is an extension for Chrome and there is an Ecosia browser.

Screenshot of some of Ecosia browser's privacy settings on Android
Some of Ecosia browser’s privacy settings

Like most other alternative browsers, the engine is Chrome, but the interface is a custom design. It is a fairly standard interface, but there is an extra icon in the address/toolbar at the top. Tap the Ad shield icon and you can enable or disable ad-blocking, or go to ad-blocking settings. There are switches to block annoying ads, and allow/block acceptable ads.

Go to Settings > Privacy and there is are the usual options for clearing browsing data. History, cookies and site data, and cached images and files, for periods from the last hour to all time can all be cleared.

You can disable preloading of pages (web pages you might visit are often fetched just in case, which might set cookies). There are the usual protected content options of Allowed, Ask first and Blocked.

There is an option to use secure DNS and you can select alternatives like OpenDNS, Cloudflare (1.1.1.1), CleanBrowsing (FamilyFilter) or a custom DNS. This is useful and adds a bit of extra privacy.

Ecosia browser mostly has standard Chrome browser privacy features, but without Google looking over your shoulder at what you are doing. It also includes ad blocking, and it is environmentally friendly. However, it does not appear to block trackers. It needs to do this.

Privacy Rating: 3/5

DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser

DuckDuckGo started out as a privacy-focused alternative search engine, but these days it has web browsers too. The Chrome-based DuckDuckGo Android phone browser enables it to extend privacy into browsing the web, not just searching it.

Screenshot of DuckDuckGo browser privacy settings on Android phone
Some of DuckDuckGo browser’s privacy settings

The most obvious feature in this browser is the fire icon in the address/toolbar at the top of the screen. Tap it and there is an option to clear all tabs and data, such as cookies. There is even a choice of four animations.

Open the menu by tapping the three dots in the toolbar and the menu has two items that stand out. One is Fireproof Site. This is an exception list for when you use the fire icon. You can burn all data and tabs except those sites that you fireproof. This keeps a site’s cookies, which you may rely on for logins and accounts.

It seems such an obvious and useful feature to have, it makes you wonder why other browsers don’t do it. All browsers have an option to clear site data and cookies, but usually they clear everything. DuckDuckGo lets you specify exceptions.

There is a useful option to automatically clear tabs or tabs and browsing data on app exit or if the browser has been inactive for 5, 15, 30 or 60 minutes.

The site icon at the left of the address box can be tapped to show a privacy dashboard. It shows the site, encryption, tracker data and more. The site can be set as an exclusion here.

Another useful option on the browser menu is Disable Privacy Protection. DuckDuckGo browser automatically blocks many trackers used on websites for your privacy. Disable Privacy Protection sets the current site as an exception. It may be desired or even needed on certain sites if blocking scripts causes problems.

There is also a Global Privacy Control switch in the DuckDuckGo settings. It asks participating websites to restrict selling or sharing your personal data. A website can ignore this setting and probably a lot do, but supporting websites will limit what information they sell or share. It is better than nothing, but it sounds about as useful as the browser Do Not Track feature that most sites ignore.

DuckDuckGo is a good app for Android if you want to improve browser privacy, not because it has a lot more features than rivals, but because what it has is easier to use and more useful, like fireproofing sites.

Privacy Rating: 4.5/5

Vivaldi Browser: Fast & Safe

Vivaldi is one of the least popular Android browsers here and it only has 1m+ installs. It is not clear why that is, because it is actually quite good in many ways. It is Chrome based as usual, but it has a custom interface with some extra features to tempt you away from Google’s browser.

Screenshot of Vivaldi browser privacy settings on Android phone
Some of Vivaldi browser’s privacy settings

There are a couple of obvious buttons that set it apart from alternatives and on the left of the address box is a shield. Tap it and a panel is displayed that contains three tracking protection levels, No Blocking, Block Trackers and Block Trackers and Ads.

There is a link to Manage Default Settings and this provides a few more options, like selecting the tracker blocking sources (DuckDuckGo’s Tracker Radar is the default), and the ad-blocking sources. There is also an option to manually set tracker and ad blockers for specific domains. You could disable one or both for certain sites if you want to allow them.

The V button to the right of the address box shows the browser menu and from there you can get to privacy and security settings. You can force https, disable preloading of pages you might go to next, and use secure DNS. You can select from Google, Quad 9, CleanBrowsing, OpenDNS, Cloudflare or set your own.

You can clear browsing history, cookies and site data, cached images and files from the last hour to all time. Browsing data can also be automatically cleared when you exit the app. However. you cannot set exceptions as you can with DuckDuckGo though.

Vivaldi offers a lot of browser privacy features and it stops trackers and ads, and can auto-clear browsing data when you quit. It is almost as good as DuckDuckGo.

Privacy Rating 4/5

Brave Private Browser

Brave browser for Android is a popular alternative to the phone’s built-in browser and this Chrome-based app has more than 50 million downloads on Android. Brave is often the browser mentioned when talking about privacy on the web and it has more features than rivals.

Screenshot of Brave browser privacy settings on Android phone
Some of Brave browser’s privacy settings

There is a Brave icon to the right of the address box and tapping it displays a panel with an on/off button for Brave Shields and the number of “ads and other creepy things blocked”. There is a link to a full privacy report and this shows the websites visited and the trackers blocked over the last week, month and three-month periods. It shows the data saved in megabytes and the time saved.

The drop-down Brave panel can be expanded to show additional security settings for this specific site, but you can also go through Settings > Brave Shields & Privacy to set global privacy settings. It enables you to force https and warn about sites that do not support it. Scripts can be blocked, but this often breaks sites, so take care.

There are three cookie settings, Block all cookies, Block cross-site cookies, and Allow all cookies. Brave has anti-fingerprinting features that can help to prevent sites from identifying you by analyzing your specific hardware and software. There are three settings, strict and standard fingerprinting, and Allow all. Strict may break sites, so take care.

Browsing data can be automatically clearing on exiting the browser, and also browsing data can be cleared from the last hour to all time. DuckDuckGo does this feature best though.

Google and Facebook login buttons can be disabled and embedded posts from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be blocked. All these things can be used to track you, so it is good to be able to disable them if you want.

Like all the apps, Brave collects data, usage and diagnostics, but you can opt out of this. Turn on all the browser privacy features and you have a good, private browser for the web. This is recommended.

Privacy Rating: 5/5

Opera Browser: Fast & Private

With over 100 million installs on Android alone, Opera is the most popular alternative browser that I looked at. The browser has been around for decades on PCs, and was not originally Chrome based, but it has been for many years and is better for it. This Android app is like Chrome with a custom interface and better browser privacy features.

Screenshot of Opera browser privacy settings on Android phone
Some of Opera browser’s privacy settings

To the left of the address box is a green tick. Tap it and it shows a panel with the number of ads and trackers blocked. There are also switches to turn ad and tracker blocking on and off. This is specific to this site and it is possible to disable the features for selected sites, but keep them on for other sites.

Tap your account picture in the bottom right corner and a VPN is available. This is free, but limited to just three regions in the world, America, Asia and Europe. It can be slow at times, but is OK for light use and if you do not have any other VPN. A VPN does not hide everything about you, but it helps with certain things and when combined with Private browsing mode and the other privacy features, it makes you fairly anonymous on the web.

Open the bottom panel, tap the gear to go to settings and you can access ad blocking settings. You can block ads or only allow acceptable ads. Popup cookie messages can be automatically blocked or accepted as you prefer. Either way, you will see them a lot less. There is a site exclusions list for sites you want to allow everything on.

Tracker blocking can be turned on or off and there is an excluded sites list where it is always allowed. A Privacy section brings together several settings like VPN, ad and tracker blocking. Opera tracking can also be disabled here.

Cookies can be allowed, blocked or only third-party blocked, which is a standard Chrome feature.

Browsing data can be automatically cleared when the app is exited, such as history, tabs, recent searches, coolies, form data and downloads. This is useful and is common to other browsers, but DuckDuckGo handles this better.

Opera is good and has a useful range of privacy features to keep you safe on the internet. It is recommended.

Security Rating: 4.5/5

Conclusion

Every app here offers better browser privacy than Google Chrome. However, Ecosia is only slightly better. It’s great if you want to help plant trees, but there are more private browsers.

Edge and Vivaldi have some good privacy features, but DuckDuckGo has slightly better ones and I like the fire icon and fireproofing feature. Opera has some great features and even includes a free VPN, even if it is a bit limited compared to commercial VPNs.

DuckDuckGo is the runner up and Brave is the winner of this group test. It has a good range of privacy features and slightly more than rivals. Only privacy is examined here and many other factors come into play when choosing an alternative browser, but it is probably one of the main considerations for switching.

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