By Marie Flanagan August 31, 2021
Summary: You know the cornerstones of online security, from using a strong password to thinking twice before posting private information on public social media. But there’s a less obvious element to this, too: choosing a secure browser. Learn what browser privacy is, why it’s important, the top-rated secure browsers, and how to enhance privacy on any device or platform by using a virtual private network.
As a trusted internet service provider, equipping our customers with the tools to stay safer online is important to us. From choosing a secure email platform or creating a strong password, virtual safety is a multipronged approach. But did you know that your choice of web browser has security implications, too? And that every browser has settings that you can adjust, even if you don’t specifically choose a private browser? We promise it’s less complicated than it sounds.
So, what are the benefits of browsing privately?
Well, it can give you more control over your data because websites aren’t storing your searches and online activity. It can also be helpful if you’re using a shared device because your information is erased when you close the browser. If you forget to log out of your email, the next person on the device won’t have easy access to your accounts.
Private browsing mode is one way to achieve browser privacy. (The other way is through using a VPN, but more on that later.) Just about every browser offers a private mode. Called Incognito in Google Chrome, InPrivate on Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, Private Browsing on Mozilla Firefox, and simply a Private Browsing Window on Safari, each of these modes prevent sites from collecting and storing your history, passwords, cookies, and other pieces of information.
For most browsers, you can turn on private browsing through the same menu you use to open a new tab or window, but you can find more detailed instructions here or by searching for instructions for how to turn on private browsing specific to your favorite platform.
Maybe you’re less worried about private browsing mode because you use a private computer. There are still privacy settings you can adjust to prevent some tracking — here are our three favorites.
First and foremost, turn off the autofill passwords in your browser keychain. We know, they’re convenient, but it gives anyone who has access to your computer access to everything else. Instead, opt for a dedicated password manager and create strong, unique passwords for each account.
Once you’ve changed your password storage, you can move on to managing your cookies. Cookie files are stored on your computer any time you use a web browser, and the file is read by the server on the other end of the browser. These can be helpful, like remembering usernames and storing items in your online shopping cart. But cookies can also track you, and it’s not just cookies from the site you visited. You can also pick up cookies from that site’s advertisers — also known as a third-party cookie and why you’ll see the same ads from site to site.
You can manually adjust the cookie privacy settings on your browser by blocking all of them, only storing data until you close the browser, or blocking third-party cookies. Blocking third-party cookies is a great place to start. It’s not foolproof, but it will prevent you from constantly having to log back into every site, too.
You should also consider turning off your autofill data in your browser. Less trustworthy sites can pull autofill data without you being aware of it, but at the very least turning that off will help cut down on the number of unwanted emails you receive. Autofill data often includes things like your full name, shipping address, contact information, and sometimes even payment information.
Wondering which private browser is the best? There are a few that seem to take overall security very seriously.
There’s the lesser-known Brave browser, which does not use traditional ads (it opts for privacy-protecting ads) and has options to block third-party ad trackers, upgrade unsecured connections, block cookies, and more.
There’s also Mozilla Firefox, which has invested in enhanced tracking prevention (such as blocking browser fingerprinting) and doesn’t profit from online ads. On top of its built-in settings, the browser offers a lot of configurable privacy settings, too. With roughly 220 million users, Firefox is highly trusted by consumers and experts.
Finally, the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo has created a browser extension. Compatible with most browsers, it blocks browser fingerprinting and is a founding member of the Global Privacy Control standard. (Fingerprinting is a method used to identify individual users or devices by collecting information about the device. And it accurately identifies users 99% of the time.) There is one caveat, though. Because it’s a browser extension, that does add a possible opening for security issues or breaches.
Ultimately, the best web browser for privacy is the one that you’ve configured to fit your needs. If you’re attached to the browser you’re currently using, consider adding a virtual private network (or VPN). VPNs can make virtually any online browser or network more secure by encrypting the information you send and receive. And, as user privacy becomes a bigger concern, the popularity of VPNs is increasing — 68% of adult internet users also use a VPN, and the industry is growing by more than 160% year-over-year.
Whatever web browser you prefer, you deserve to be educated about how it uses your data, and how to personalize your internet browser privacy settings. Adjusting your web browser settings is just one more way to keep your private information secure and off the dark web.
Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.
See all posts from Marie Flanagan.