The choice of web browser seems like a silly thing for me to talk about. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, when I run this site I strive to find a balance between throwing too much at my readers but also serving them with good, useful information. But honestly, a web browser is one of those things that on the end-user level makes almost no difference and on the backend makes a huge difference, so I figure it’s worth discussing. In other words: once you get used to it, the browser you use has almost no impact on your daily life, but it can have huge implications behind the scene.
What is a Web Browser and Why Does it Matter?
In the off chance you’ve somehow gotten very lost in your quest for cat videos and have no idea where you are or what I’m talking about, congratulations! You’re almost certainly reading this on a web browser! (Unless someone screenshotted this or copied it to a text file or something like that.) A web browser is simply a program you use to access and explore the internet. Sure apps and things of that nature also access the internet, but they do so in a very specific way. Your web browser allows you to do so openly and flexibly. Common examples of well-known Web Browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge, Firefox, Opera, and Safari (in no particular order).
Why does it matter? Because frankly, there’s a lot more going on behind the curtain of your web browser than meets the eye. At eye level, you type in “buzzfeed.com” and you go to buzzfeed to watch reaction gifs and read clickbait articles. But behind the scenes where you can’t see it, so much more is happening.
So What Browser is Best?
With most things on this website, I’m very hesitant to give a straight answer because there’s so many variables and options. But here I feel pretty confident giving a blanket statement: use Firefox. Let me go into detail.
Far starters, the worst possible browsers you can use include Edge, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Chrome. Chrome is very fast, very well supported, and very secure, but all of these browsers share one common dealbreaker, and that’s that they report detailed usage information back to their creators. They’re essentially spyware. All of them. So by using something like Chrome, not only are you sharing all your browsing with your ISP, you’re also sharing it with Google. Why would you willingly invite a spy into the mix?
Firefox is open source and privacy-minded. That’s not to say they’re perfect. They’ve had their fair share of “oops” moments, bad judgment calls, and unnecessary information collection, but compared to the other mainstreams browsers I mentioned above it’s practically not even worth considering. Additionally, while Chrome is fast and secure, it’s barely any faster than Firefox (the average person won’t even notice it), and for the average person your biggest security concerns should be things like data breaches, not obscure DNS injection attacks. Mainstream threats like breaches, bad passwords, and phishing are significantly more threatening to the average person than behind-the-scenes code vulnerabilities.
Now for the disclaimer: that’s a blanket statement for the average person reading this. For 90% of my readers, Firefox is a perfectly good browser. For those other 10%, you have plenty of options. I personally support “upstream” distributions because they’re so quick to get security updates and features. Because it’s open source, Firefox has a ton of “forks” – modified versions, basically – that focus on everything from improved privacy to lighter processing requirements to open source alternatives and more, but these all require updates and features to be added by the person or team who modified them, which means they could be slower to receive critical security updates. If you’re in a situation where something like that might of more concern to you, then I recommend you do your research and see if they’re right for you. But in my opinion, Firefox plus the add-ons I recommend on my own site would be more than enough for the average person. If you need additional privacy or security, consider the Firefox configuration tweaks recommended by PrivacyTools.io.
For Android there’s no contest. Firefox is fully available on Android, including all the plugins mentioned here. You can easily replicate the same browsing experience. For iOS, things get a little trickier. The two main contenders I support are Firefox Focus and DuckDuckGo. To be honest, they are essentially the same. Both block ads, both block trackers, DDG offers multiple tabs while Focus instantly erases everything once you close it out. It’s really a matter of which you prefer. I’ve tried both and found both to be acceptable personally. DDG is a company with a great reputation in the privacy community, as is Firefox, so I feel comfortable saying “whichever floats your boat.”
Brave is a very popular browser these days. It’s based on Chrome so it’s lightning fast, but it comes built in with ad-blockers and the “HTTPS Everywhere” plugin. I would recommend Brave before Chrome if you absolutely refuse to leave Chrome for whatever reason, but I think it’s not as good Firefox for two reasons. First, since Brave is based on Chrome, it still uses the Chrome DNS, which means you’re still inviting Google to spy on all your traffic without reason. Second, Chrome might do away with ad-blockers, so I can’t imagine that functionality will remain in Brave.
TOR is another browser quick to be touted by privacy enthusiasts. TOR (which stands for “The Onion Router”) works as an entire network protocol by bouncing your encrypted traffic around a few different relays before releasing it into the wild, in effect providing you with anonymity and security. (As usual, that was a really basic overview, it’s a little more complex than that.) TOR does work, and it’s fantastic. In fact, I access the internet in relation this project exclusively through TOR. But for the average user, it can be a bit unwieldy. For one, it’s quite slow. For another, because TOR is so often abused, many websites block known TOR addresses to prevent said abuse. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to check your bank account via the TOR Browser. You may even run into the occasional issue where a website thinks you’re in a foreign country so they translate the site into a language you don’t understand. Most importantly is that insecure websites present an even greater risk on the TOR network as now you have to trust that the person at the end of the chain who can see your traffic isn’t stealing your information. I love TOR, and I use it for many things, but again, for the average individual, it’s probably a bit too clunky.
As I said at the beginning, web browsers don’t mean much to the person using them. My girlfriend, a die-hard Chrome user, adapted instantly to Brave, then again later to Firefox. Once she settled in, she noticed no difference in her online experience. But the things happening behind the scenes are another story, and something as small as how you browse the internet can make a massive difference.