This post was originally published on 2 APR 2021; it has since been updated and revised.
Microsoft Edge especially sucks for privacy – even the “new and improved” Microsoft Edge powered by the Chromium browser engine.
Despite the heavy integration into Windows, Microsoft Edge simply sucks for privacy. It engages in data collection, has extensive telemetry, and in some cases may phone home your browsing history.
However, solid privacy-oriented browser alternatives fortunately exist on Windows. The recommendations listed here are open-source, do not share/transmit browsing activity, and engage in limited telemetry.
- Highly customizable
- Total Cookie Protection by default
- WebRTC can be disabled inside settings
Firefox has been around for a long time and has evolved alongside the massive changes brought forward by the modern internet. It is tried, true, and tested in many ways. It has consistently proven reasonably fast, reliable, and secure – as of more recent times, Firefox has described itself as “privacy conscious.”
Firefox is one of the few noteworthy browsers with a significant “enough” share of the browser “market” that doesn’t rely on Chromium for its engine. Firefox runs on the Mozilla-developed Gecko Engine; as of 2016, with the introduction of Firefox Quantum, Rust is incorporated into the source code.
Many tweaks, both basic, and advanced, should be made before Firefox can be considered a private browser. While vanilla – or otherwise un-configured – Firefox is arguably better for privacy than Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, Firefox doesn’t come especially configured for optimal (or maximum) user privacy out-the-box. This isn’t a difficult task and just takes a chunk of time.
Unlike some more private forks derived from the Firefox source code, even with privacy tweaks, Firefox still has support for DRM content and components for users with the need to play/run DRM content. Users may also experience less breakage in some instances.
- Forked from the Tor browser
- Highly resistant to fingerprinting
- uBlock Origin pre-installed
- No telemetry
In April 2023, Mullvad VPN announced it had collaborated with the developers of the well-known Tor browser to develop the Mullvad browser. According to Mullvad VPN, Mullvad browser is designed give users more options for privacy-oriented browsers.
Mullvad browser is the Tor browser without the Tor Network and instead of using the Tor Network, is designed to be used with a trustworthy virtual private network (VPN).
Similar to the Tor browser, the Mullvad browser provides solid tracking and fingerprinting protection. Mullvad browser removes all telemetry and enables private browsing by default. uBlock Origin comes pre-installed as the default ad/tracker blocker.
- Pre-hardened fork of Firefox
- No telemetry
- Extension firewall
- uBlock Origin pre-installed
LibreWolf is a community-driven Firefox fork that focuses on privacy and security; specifically, its goal is to put “user privacy, security, and user freedom first.” It’s the successor to the now defunct Firefox fork, LibreFox.
LibreWolf strips all Mozilla telemetry and Mozilla-dependent services from the Firefox source code.
LibreWolf comes with many of the privacy and security-related about:config settings already tweaked out-of-the-box, making it more universally user-friendly – less settings for the average user to tweak for better privacy.
Some privacy-related enhancements LibreWolf offers include:
- Removal of Google Location Services
- Removal of Google as a search option
- An extension firewall where extensions are limited in their abilities to initiate their own network connections
- Resists common fingerprinting techniques out-of-the-box
- Disables the saving of login information
- Offers private search engines, such as Searx, to use by default
LibreWolf removes a lot of the “bloat” in Firefox’s source code, making it lighter and faster than Firefox.
LibreWolf appears to keep up with the latest stable Firefox source code. Despite the developers’ impressive speed of releasing new versions, note that Librewolf is not affiliated with Mozilla.
- Native adblocker
- Proxied Google services (Brave services)
- Good out-the-box privacy
As of writing, the Brave Browser is the de-facto recommendation for a Chromium-based alternative privacy-oriented browser that has decent privacy straight out-the-box.
Brave is an open-source privacy-oriented browser first launched in 2016. It is maintained by the Brave company, which of itself has a handful of privacy-related scandals. However, this browser mostly delivers on its privacy promises.
Brave has a native adblocker (“shields”) enabled by default. Brave proxies all/any requests to Google, effectively substituting Google Services with “Brave Services.” For example, when “Safe Browsing” is enabled, Brave proxies the request to the Google Safe Browsing service.
While Brave engages in telemetry, it can be disabled. Brave also has an opt-in rewards program, though this rewards program is controversial, so user discretion is advised prior to opting in.
- Uses Goanna Engine
- Independent collection of plugins
- No DRM or WebRTC
Pale Moon is an open-source Firefox fork that has been around for a while. It runs on its own engine, called Goanna, which is forked from Mozilla’s Gecko engine.
Unlike many other Firefox forks, Pale Moon is not just a rebranded “old version of Firefox.” Pale Moon does not use proprietary code found in Firefox’s source code.
While Pale Moon did indeed fork from the 2009 code base of Firefox, it has been maintained and updated by an active team of developers since and is its own stable application now, running on its Goanna engine.
Pale Moon definitely gives an old-school browser vibe that may throw some users off (or make you reminisce about the good ol’ days), but it is highly customizable with many themes and add-ons available; its add-on directory has “legacy” versions of uBlock Origin and uMatrix configured to work with Pale Moon’s Goanna engine.
Pale Moon is a fairly fast browser and is light on resources, which could make it a viable option for older systems. and light on
The biggest trade off hits when users may be faced with is deciding between more “advanced” and “modern” web browser features. For example, Pale Moon does not support WebRTC.
- Removes Google services from source code
- No Telemetry
- No DRM plugins/components
Ungoogled Chromium is primarily developed for Linux, but volunteers do contribute Windows binaries. These binaries are compiled by these volunteers and there is always a risk what is in the binary does not match the source code.
This is mainly an option for slightly more savvy users who want to opt-out of using the Brave Browser.
Ungoogled Chromium is a fork of the Chromium project and is a de-googled version of Chromium.
(Chromium is the open-source framework developed and mostly maintained by Google. It is also the same code base regular Google Chrome is derived. Google Chrome is made up of the open-source Chromium project source code and proprietary code.)
Ungoogled Chromium strips Google components, plugins, and services from the source code, preventing the browser from directly communicating with Google’s servers. While the regular Chromium browser does not “phone home” arguably as much as Google Chrome, it still communicates often with Google servers in the background.
This browser has no default for search providers and is set to automatically wipe browsing sessions between uses.
Ungoogled Chromium is compatible with most Chromium-based extensions – extensions can be installed manually without signing into the Chrome Web Store.
While the browser suggestions in this post provide better privacy, they don’t necessarily provide anonymity. For anonymous browsing, users should use the Tor browser.
The Tor browser is configured to run on the Tor network. At its most basic, the Tor network routes user browsing traffic via at least three (3) hops before hitting an exit node and connecting to the destination.
The Tor browser is also highly resistant to many fingerprinting techniques; it’s designed to prevent users from standing out amongst each other – like blending into a crowd all wearing the same color. uBlock Origin is installed and enabled by default.
At a minimum, to be listed as a recommendation on avoidthehack, privacy-oriented browsers must:
Given the modern state and role of the browser, browsers should be open-source to promote transparency above all else. Open-source browsers also promote customization in the form of building from source and/or forking as a default.
With that said, browsers forked from Firefox’s Gecko engine are preferred over Chromium forks.
Browsers are often exploited (frequently using zero-days) as it is probably the most commonly used application/program on any given end-user device. Browsers listed here have timely updates to at least patch the latest vulnerabilities. This is especially important for forked browsers, which must keep up with the upstream to remain up-to-date with security patches.
Out of alpha or beta stages
Many browsers in alpha or beta stages are buggy or require additional attention to work properly. Additionally, a lot of browsers remain in a perpetual alpha or beta stage, never making it to a suitable release version.
The “best” privacy-oriented browsers provide a wealth of customization options inside the browser – without the help of extensions or add-ons – itself.
Customization allows users to tailor the browser to their wants and needs; customization in this aspect should allow for users to modify privacy-related settings, such as opting out of telemetry.
Naturally, customization is limited by the platform (operating system) on which a browser installation lives; across different operating systems, customization is relative.
Engage in limited telemetry or data collection
Browsers should not phone home any browsing related activity.
As for telemetry specifically, the browser should 1) allow users to opt-out of telemetry completely and 2) anonymize all information collected via telemetry. Browsers should not assign “unique IDs” or derive any hard to change information such as hardware UUIDs to phone home to remote servers.
There’s absolutely no doubt that on the Windows platform, you have many options for browsers.
These options become slightly less when your privacy is your number one concern.
Just like on other platforms, there are many browsers available for Windows that claim to put your privacy first.
The truth is, few actually do.
And of those few that are privacy-friendly, you’ll more than likely have to make your own adjustments to achieve a level of privacy you are comfortable with.
As I mentioned earlier, your best option for privacy while browsing the Internet is a Firefox that is configured for privacy via its settings and true privacy-respecting extensions.
As always, stay safe out there!
Original Article Source link