Most secure browser for your privacy in 2021

illustration of a private Internet browser

This post was updated on May 3, 2021.

Your web browser is the vehicle that carries you around the Internet to your desired websites. As such, it knows precisely what sites you have visited, how long you spent browsing them, and what you clicked on (or almost clicked on). Anyone who has access to your web browser can have a window into your income, your political leanings, and even your sexual preferences.

This is why it’s so important to only use browsers you know will protect and improve your internet privacy. In this article, we explain how browsers capture so much information and which web browsers in 2021 are best at keeping your browsing history safe from data-hungry tech companies and advertisers

Further reading: Easy steps to improve your internet privacy

How you are tracked online

Before examining the impact your browser can have on your privacy, you need to understand how your online activity is monitored.

While having a company directly record your browsing history is a risk (see Google Chrome), the more common threats to your privacy come from online advertisers and third-party trackers. Similar to Google, advertisers and trackers want to record as much of your online browsing as possible. The more data they have, the better they can show you ads specifically tailored to you. The two tools they use to follow you around the Internet are device fingerprinting and cookies.

  • Device fingerprinting is when a site looks at all the characteristics of your device (the make and model of your device, what browser you are using, what plugins you have installed, what timezone you are in, etc.) until it has enough information to identify and follow it. Your device share this information to optimize the websites you visit. For example, websites want to know if you’re using a laptop or a smartphone so that it can select the correct font size and screen resolution. This can be surprisingly accurate. To see if your device has an easily identifiable fingerprint, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Panopticlick.
  • Cookies, or HTTP cookies, are tiny data packets that websites or services plant on your browser while you’re on a website. These cookies differentiate your browsers from others, like a nametag. 

The privacy risks of Chrome

Any discussion of privacy and Web browsers must begin with Google Chrome. It is, by far, the most popular Web browser. Chrome handles over 60 percent of web traffic. This is unfortunate because Google uses Chrome as a window to peer into every action you take online. Unless you modify your Google privacy settings, Chrome records every site you visit so Google can serve you targeted ads.

Even worse, Chrome does very little to block other advertisers and trackers from monitoring you with cookies or device fingerprinting. A Washington Post article reported Chrome gathers roughly 11,000 trackers in an average week. Do you want 11,000 pairs of eyes on you every time you do an Internet search?

However, you do not need to give away your personal data to access the Internet.

There are Internet browsers that do not record your every action and protect you from trackers. Switching from Chrome to one of the following browsers can drastically reduce the amount of data you are inadvertently sharing as you browse the Internet.

Further reading: Gmail’s privacy problem and why it matters

Best secure and privacy-first web browsers: 

1. (tie) Brave

The Brave browser was designed to make privacy simple enough for everyone. It is an open source browser built on top of Chromium (an open source version of the Chrome browser), which means it’s easy for Chrome users to make the switch.

However, unlike Chrome, Brave does not collect any data about your online activity. Your data remains private and on your device.

Brave also makes blocking trackers easy. Instead of forcing users to decide which plugins and browser extensions they should download, Brave comes fully equipped. It automatically blocks all third-party and advertising cookies, and because HTTPS Everywhere is built-in, it ensures all your connections are securely HTTPS encrypted. Brave also features Fingerprinting Protection in the browser.

The company also has a social mission: to encourage websites not to rely on advertising based on tracking you around the Internet. Brave has introduced a system that allows you to reward creators and sites you visit directly.

Called Brave Rewards, it uses a utility token called a Basic Attention Token and enables you to anonymously reward the websites you visit most. Brave also has opt-in, privacy-preserving Brave Ads, and users who choose to view them earn 70% of the ad revenue, which they can then use to reward their favorite online creators.

Brave is available for desktop, Android, and iOS

1. (tie) Firefox 

The open source Firefox is the third-most-popular browser on the Internet, behind Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari. Developed by Mozilla, the Firefox team has improved the browser’s privacy protections in recent years.

They have introduced advanced anti-fingerprinting and Enhanced Tracking Protection features this year, both of which make it much more difficult for third-party trackers to follow you around the Internet.

Unlike Brave, the standard Firefox does not automatically block advertisements. However, there are numerous browser extensions that you can download that will prevent advertisers from getting your information or showing you ads.

Or, if you primarily browse the Internet on your mobile device, Firefox Focus incorporates automatic ad blocking. (Focus was developed as an ad blocker for Safari, but was then transformed into a minimalistic privacy browser for Android users.) 

Firefox is available for desktop, Android, and iOS

3. Tor browser

As we have discussed elsewhere, Tor is the best option if privacy is your utmost concern. The Tor browser is based on Firefox, but it has been stripped down and specially calibrated to run on the Tor network.

When you use Tor, your traffic is encrypted three times and bounced between three Tor servers before it reaches your desired website. The encryption is handled in such a way that each server only has access to one set of instructions, so no server has access to both your IP address and the website you are visiting.

This setup makes it impossible for Tor to keep any records about your online activity, and every time you close your session, the browser deletes your cookie cache and browsing history. The browser itself is formatted to prevent fingerprinting, and it blocks all kinds of trackers.

Unfortunately, it also blocks a lot of plugins that websites rely on. For example, with its privacy settings fully activated, the Tor browser will block JavaScript. JavaScript can expose user information, but blocking it can make websites unusable. Using Tor can also mean performing endless CAPTCHA verifications when you try to access larger sites. Finally, the Tor browser is slower than other browsers because of the extra encryption.

Download the Tor browser app for desktop and Android, as well as a Tor-approved open source Onion browser for iOS.  

4. DuckDuckGo (honorable mention)

Unlike the other browsers mentioned above, DuckDuckGo does not have a standalone desktop browser, which means it is only a solution if you are browsing the Internet on your smartphone or tablet. With the DuckDuckGo browser, your browsing history never leaves your device. Deleting your entire browsing history is as easy as tapping a single button.

It automatically blocks ads, stops third-party trackers, and ensures HTTPS encryption on all sites where that’s possible. One feature that does set it apart is the Privacy Grade it gives each site. This makes it easy for you to evaluate how much data each website collects from you, with and without DuckDuckGo’s protections, at a single glance.

The DuckDuckGo browser is available for Android and iOS.
You can also use the extension for Chrome and Firefox.

The Web browser you choose can have a dramatic impact on your overall online privacy. By switching to one of the privacy-focused browsers in this article, you can protect your browsing history from the companies and trackers that want to monitor your every digital move.

What’s your favorite web browser? Let us know in the comments below on Twitter or Reddit.

Best Regards,
The ProtonMail Team

You can get a free secure email account from ProtonMail here.

We also provide a free VPN service to protect your privacy.

ProtonMail and ProtonVPN are funded by community contributions. If you would like to support our development efforts, you can upgrade to a paid plan or donate. Thank you for your support.

About the Author

Richie Koch

Prior to joining Proton, Richie spent several years working on tech solutions in the developing world. He joined the Proton team to advance the rights of online privacy and freedom.


Comments are closed.

51 comments on “Most secure browser for your privacy in 2021

  • You state the following:

    “Unlike the other browsers mentioned above, DuckDuckGo does not have a standalone desktop browser, which means it is only a solution if you are browsing the Internet on your smartphone or tablet.”

    and then the following:

    “With the DuckDuckGo browser, your browsing history never leaves your device.”

    So is there a DuckDuckGo browser or not??

  • Thank you for promoting better browsers. You missed an important feature on Brave, not only does it also have an incognito mode, but you can browse using Tor for best privacy….

  • What are your thoughts on Safari? Apple seems quite privacy aware, at least to some extent, and making the jump to any other browser (i do have Brave installed) seems quite hard mostly because on how well connected all their ecosystem is between devices.

  • I suppose I have to ask how much I should care about privacy? Security, yes, but should I really care if someone knows I buy clothes from FatFace occasionally and loads of tech from Amazon? I don’t visit dodgy websites and most of my online activity is mind numbingly boring. But am I missing something?

    • There are now more than 20 million Proton users who have decided to stop needlessly allowing themselves to be monetized by large corporations and subject to mass surveillance by governments. You may not feel you have anything to hide, but privacy is a right you are entitled to. We’re building an Internet that affords everyone the opportunity to enjoy this right. Why not sign up for a free ProtonMail account and give it a try?

  • You forgot to mention brave does use the tor network if you choose that option. Unlike tor it’s not on my default.

  • First of all, thank you for the valuable information but I would like to state that I will not use Brave browser because it’s not possible to get the same information that I can get with Chrome, certain websites made it almost impossible tude them when I was using Brave

  • I would be interested in your assessment of the Vivaldi browser. It’s developing into a very useful browser, and the development team has a good regard for user’s privacy and data.

  • I use protonmail and duckgo, but which gallery offers privacy? I use the Gallery on my Huawei android and several photos is stolen, completely gone, such as portraits.
    Any suggestions?

  • Hi,

    What is your opinion on Opera browser? I sometimes use it as I heard some good things about it.

    Thank you.

  • Sad to see Brave being promoted by a privacy company like Protonmail. It whitelists trackers, promotes browser engine monopoly, calls extremists kicked out from Youtube to use BAT to finance their hate and has a homophobic CEO.

    Firefox is THE privacy browser and has been for decades.

  • Hi there,

    How could you forget/ignore Cliqz (
    Cliqz, based on Firefox has his own search engine (still beta but working well)
    Include anti-tracking, anti-phishing, Ad bloking, fingerprinting protection and more…
    I have been using it for a couple of years, work perfectly, get enhanced regularly. Surfing the net with 0 Ad, no tracking is really a good feeling.

    And it is a european producti
    Have a look!

  • What about Vivaldi browser, would you say this is a good alternative to chrome?

    It doesn’t use the BAT token model but has alternative search engines as default and uses the chromium engine under the hood.

  • Hello,
    I just read this interesting article and I would like to know what you think about Epic Privacy Browser. I discovered it several years ago when I was looking for a secure browser.

  • “Using Tor can also mean performing endless CAPTCHA verifications”

    So true! I feel that PAIN EVERYDAY! :(

    • Safari has strong privacy protections as well. It’s main drawback is that it is obviously limited to Apple users.

  • I just wish that all popular browsers provided easy settings to use so that they don’t give out so much information. Device Info at title=”” shows a ton of information, showing that privacy is still an issue. The only good browser that prevents all of this by default is Tor.

  • I have not asked to be covered by Protonmail however I am being charged over 100.00 dollars for it please refund my money.

    • Hi Louise, I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Please contact our support team to get this straightened out.

  • What do you think of Startpage? Currently I can no longer get on it for some mysterious reason. Any ideas? Thanks! Richard

  • On my laptop I use brave browser . I can’t describe how much I am happy with this browser .. of course , my default search engine there is duckduckgo . I use both of this at the same time …

  • “However, unlike Chrome, Brave does not collect any data about your online activity. Your data remains private and on your device.”

    The problem I have with this is the fact they use Chrome as an example to make Brave stand out. Ultimately you still fork over ad share perhaps in a more discreet way but that is besides the point. The problem is no one want ads period, Firefox at least lets you block everything that sucks your life.

    Also I would rather prefer Ungoogled Chromium and even Opera to Brave!

  • Dissenter browser, it’s a fork of BRAVE from Gab

    Would love to see it thrown this into the mix?

  • If you want to hide your activities and IP without using VPN, go for Tor Browser. Tor provides you with a secure watchdog that can enable or disable an insecure site like HTTP.

  • A great informative article about the best browser for privacy. Tor browser and duckduckgo is the best above them. Who are familiar with tor browser they would use the duckduckgo also. Google chrome incognito mode is also good for privacy.

  • Hi team,

    Thanks for the informative article, I have used DDG and Tutanota and Protonmail for quite considerable time I have never missed Google.

  • thank you for all the efforts you put into writing this article. you have not mentioned the Edge Browser. it is my default browser. is it trustworthy?

    • Hi Sarah. Edge is now based on the open source version Google’s Chrome browser – Chromium. Like Chrome, the core engine is open source, but Microsoft has added proprietary code to increase functionality. So the question really boils down to: how much do you trust Microsoft?

  • What browsers are good not only for privacy, but also refuse to censor content? I like Firefox, but resent that it just announced that they will refuse to publish content by Trump supporters. I am a libertarian, so I am offended by efforts to censor anyone’s speech, they be ultra left, ultra liberal, anti-vaxers, or pro or anti global warming, etc. The internet is vital for the spread of ideas, and to limit the ideas and speech to only approved thought is anathema to freedom.

    • Hi RB. Browsers such as Firefox are content-agnostic. No browser (including Firefox) censors content.

  • Why not mention the Dissenter browser? It uses Chrome like Brave does but unlike Brave is lighter, faster and safer. In Incognito you can use TOR. Many settings and security options dep how aggressive you wanna go.

  • Brave is a bloated app made by a bloated corporation.. it is fully devoted to monitizing everything you do with the browser, don’t be fooled. Stay away.

  • I am using ProtonMail for almost two years now and am very happy. I always used the web browser to access my mails as that way I have access to all the functionality that ProtonMail offers e.g. labels, subfolders (beta). Recently I read somewhere that accessing my emails via a browser interface is less secure than via a desktop client e.g. Apple Mail. Is this true? If it is true, which desktop client offers me the ability to use labels and subfolders with ProtonMail?

    • Hi John. There are some issues with browser-based cryptography that affect all webmail services, but our open source web client has undergone a full independent security audit from SEC Consult. If you are still concerned, then you can use the Proton Bridge app to manage your emails with any email client. Most email clients (including Mozilla Thunderbird) allow you to create nested folders within the MAP directory on the mail server. Many also support tags, although data for these will be stored locally.

  • Firefox (Mozilla) and big tech are now planning to censor information up to browser level. Thei aim is not limited to censorship as like as Twitter and Co. towards TRUMP and coinservatives, but to redirect and indoctrine the web useser by their own “big” ( fat and fake agenda).
    Probably it’s time for Proton to devellop a new browser.

  • I wonder why Mozilla Firefox is (still) recommended when privacy is concerned.

    Mozilla gets paid by various companies like Google which are famous for tracking and spying on its users.
    Additionally, Firefox comes up with some suspicious surprises from time to time like cliqz oder tiles o.O

    Thus, I’m not sure if Mozilla’s enhanced fingerprint protection is really to be trusted.

    But even if you put all these concerns aside, in which way does Firefox protect its users’ privacy?

    As far as I can tell, Mozilla Firefox does nothing in that regard.

    If you don’t enjoy being tracking, you need to change your search engine from Google, Bing or whatever to a trusted search engine. Furthermore, you most likely need to install the EFF’s Add-On Privacy Badger.

    If you prioritize encrypted connections, you’ll need to install HTTPS Everywhere.

    If you don’t like advertisements, you need to install an adblocker like Ublock Origin.

    In other words:
    Firefox offers insufficient protection when it comes to encryption, tracking and advertisements by default. On the other hand it cooperates with companies that makes a lot of money by using its users’ data (like Google) and includes suspicious stuff like tiles or cliqz.

    So in conclusion, I would say that you need to change a lot of stuff in Firefox in order for it to be somewhat “trustworthy” and hope that Mozilla won’t include some new suspicious stuff because they still don’t have enough money yet.

    • Hi User. This article is due to be updated soon. We will try to consider all factors, but there is a good chance that, on balance (nothing is perfect) we will continue to recommend Firefox.

      • I’m missing one crucial piece of information in this article.

        You focus on how the browser protect your privacy when surfing the web. That is, protect the privacy against “third parties” like the websites / advertisers etc.
        But the browsers themselves are also made by some companies, regardless of whether they’re open source or not.
        What about the analytic and statistical data the browser might capture for themselves?
        The best example of this is the telemetry of firefox itself.

        How can you continue to recommend firefox as the best privacy protection browser if it itself compromises the users privacy like this by default?
        Moreover, Mozilla wants to make us believe that we can opt-out of telemetry in the settings. However, can that really be trusted?

  • Pale Moon is an Open Source, Goanna-based web browser available for MS-Windows and Linux focusing on efficiency and customization.
    Pale Moon has been forked off from Firefox/Mozilla code years ago and is now completely built from its own.
    customization is very close to what Firefox offers, but comes without all that stuff called google-safebrowsing, pocket etc.