It’s a Privacy-First version of Google Chrome
When it comes to internet surfing, the internet browser is one thing you can’t live without. We use it on all our devices and some of us also want to sync it across devices e.g. your favorites, passwords, etc.
There is no doubt that Google Chrome today is the browser of choice for most of us and it captures a 70%+ market share in 2020.
We all very well know by now that we are being tracked everywhere we go. Even if we want to, it’s not possible for an average Joe to protect his full privacy.
When it comes to protecting your privacy, none of the Google products including Google Chrome should be your choice. Google is the biggest online advertising company today. How can you even expect privacy from an ad company like Google, when targeted advertising has become a norm.
Google has given us so many cost-free and the most user-friendly applications and got us into the habit of using them every day so much so that we can’t even think of ditching any of the google products without impacting the convenience and comfort it has brought into our lives.
Well, if we are concerned about our privacy and we are concerned about all the unethical means companies are using to harvest our data, we have to start somewhere. If we don’t take any action ourselves, then nothing will change.
“If you want to change the world, start with yourself.” — Mahatma Gandhi
We can’t simply rely on the Government to ensure that these companies are not doing anything illegal and unethical. Unfortunately, you can’t define anything as illegal unless lawmakers declare it so.
Because laws are always created later based on the misuse of situations and circumstances, companies are taking advantage of the absence of such laws.
Today, we are going to talk about, how can you get rid of Google Chrome forever and that too without creating any impact in your digital life, including no loss of comfort and convenience.
Why You Should Quit Google Chrome
Most of us today are using Google Chrome as the browser of choice. It is the most popular browser that captures more than 70% market share today. Because of its popularity, all the browser extensions are also available for Google Chrome than any other browser.
It doesn’t matter which platform we use, we use google chrome as the browser of choice across all platforms, which includes iPhones, Android phones, MacBooks, Windows Laptops and Desktops, iPads, and Andriod Tablets, etc.
There are too many reasons, why you should stop using Google Chrome, but a few key ones are highlighted below:
- Chrome comes from Google, which is not a search engine company, but an online advertising company.
- Chrome is a system hog
- Chrome’s built-in ad-blocking is limited, and there are obvious reasons for that.
- Chrome’s privacy controls aren’t that comprehensive, because without collecting your online behavior stats Google can’t show you targetted advertising effectively.
- It is no longer the best Chromium browser
If you are still not sure, then you should definitely read “Why you should stop using google chrome.”
Are you ready to Switch
What if I say that you can get exactly the same set of features and functionalities on all of your platforms, with the same list of browser extensions you use. Really, it is possible.
Whenever it comes to switching from one app to another, we always fear the loss of convenience and comfort we got used to. But, the best part of switching to Brave Browser is that nothing changes, but the name only. It is still your Google Chrome browser but comes with built-in, by default ON, privacy protection.
What is Brave
Google Chrome is built with Open Source software. We usually call it a Chromium-based browser. Microsoft has also recently switched its Edge Browser (legacy) in Windows 10 to chromium-based Edge browser due to its popularity.
Brave is also built on top of the same chromium-based open source software, therefore it is able to provide you with all the same features and functionalities which are provided by Google Chrome. You can use the exact same set of extensions with the Brave browser, which you are habitual to use with Google Chrome. In fact, it uses the same Chrome Web Store for extensions installation.
Brave browser is available for all the platforms and therefore you can install it on all your devices including iPhone, Android Phone, Microsoft Windows desktops and laptops, Macbooks, iPad, Android tablets, etc.
[Update: Feb 2022]
You can see for yourself where Brave browser stands against all the other browsers in the test for Privacy.
You can go to PrivacyTests for the full result for desktop as well as mobile browsers.
Privacy Settings in Brave
Even if you are a person, who doesn’t feel comfortable with changing any of the settings, you will still be better off using Brave with its default settings than using Google Chrome.
However, changing the recommended settings as explained below is a piece of cake. Please don’t be scared and just try it out. Don’t worry. In case if you get into any trouble, just let me know in the comments and I will be more than happy to help.
As you can notice in the below screenshot, the Brave browser comes with default privacy settings. We will talk about each of these settings one-by-one for better understanding.
Block Cross-site Trackers
Let’s say you visit nytimes.com. Brave will block everything which is not coming from nytimes.com. Any information which is downloaded on your computer from other than nytimes.com domain is considered as cross-site or 3rd party trackers.
By default, this setting in turned ON. You don’t need to change anything here. Just leave it turned on.
As you can see in the screenshot below, nytimes.com has 12 cross-site trackers.
Just keep it in mind, that any information which is being served from the non-nytimes.com domain will never break the website and you will still be able to use it without facing any issues.
This setting will block all the advertisements and will act as an ad-blocker. So, when you install Brave, you don’t need to install any ad-blocker extensions explicitly.
Upgrade Connection to HTTPS
You should never ever visit any website, which is not served over HTTPS, else prying eyes and hackers can steal your information.
Every time we enter a website address, we don’t type the full address of a website. The Brave browser automatically searches for the HTTPS version of the website address.
HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol used for communication and exchange of information between two computers. HTTPS is the same protocol but comes with “secured and encrypted” communication.
Any website you visit MUST have the lock-sign as shown below. If it doesn’t show you the lock-sign, you shouldn’t use that website.
There is a small catch with Brave’s automatic upgrade to HTTPS, which you should be aware of before you feel safe and secure.
If you use Brave’s default “Upgrade Connection to HTTPS”, Brave will be able to upgrade the connection to HTTPS, only if the secured connection is provided by the website you are visiting. In the case where secured HTTPS connection is not available, Brave will still show you the website/page unencrypted (non HTTPS version). You can identify this by looking for the lock-sign. For any non-HTTPS version of a website, you will not see the lock.
My recommendation is to take this security to the next level for you to really be safe. You shouldn’t visit any website content which is not served over a secure connection.
To achieve maximum security, I would recommend installing the “HTTPS Everywhere” extension.
Once you have installed the extension, turn on both the options as shown in the screenshot above. The above settings will block all the unsecured or unencrypted (non-HTTPS) communications.
By default, in Brave, you can not set “Encrypt All Sites Eligible is ON”, therefore it is advised to install HTTPS Everywhere extension explicitly and turn this option on.
So just in case, even if you visit any non-HTTPS website unknowingly, you will see the below screen:
On this screen, you can decide, if you want to visit the website or not. The recommendation is “Do Not Visit” if you don’t know what you are doing.
If you know what you are up to, you can choose “Open Insecure Page” — which will whitelist the link (or domain) you are visiting and you will not see this message again OR you can choose “Open Insecure Page for this Session only” — which will allow you to open it only for this time but will not whitelist it for future. So next time, you try to visit the same link again, you will again see this message.
By default, this option is turned OFF and you should leave it untouched. This is for more advanced users and not meant for average Joe.
Before we go into further explanation of this option, let us first understand the basics of cookies, in case if you are not aware of this already.
What is a Cookie?
Well, in simple terms, a cookie is nothing but a small piece of information stored on your computer or mobile device for ease of use purposes.
For example, you launch a website gmail.com and log in to your Gmail account. As soon as you log in, Google stores information about your identity (login session). Even if you close your browser, cookie information will not be deleted. Next time, you go to gmail.com, you don’t need to log in again because Google already knows about you with the help of that cookie. The convenience of not logging in, again and again, comes at a price.
- In case, if you miss logging out, or setting up the option of “don’t remember me on this device” on a public computer, you are at risk.
- Once Google knows about you, they can use the same cookie information across all the websites you visit. Today, every website uses Google Analytics, so Google is everywhere and Google uses this cookie to identify you on all the websites.
What is a 3rd Party Cookie
If you visit nytimes.com and they store any cookie information related to nytimes.com, then these cookies are called 1st-party cookies.
All the other cookies used and served by this website from a domain other than nytimes.com are called 3rd-party cookies.
- nytimes.com uses google analytics, therefore Google will also try to store a cookie.
- nytimes.com has Facebook integration as well, so Facebook will also try to store a cookie.
Facebook and Google provide useful information to nytimes.com totally free-of-cost. Why free of cost? Because Facebook and Google keep this information with them as well (for obvious misuse) before sharing it with nytimes.com.
As long as nytimes.com is getting what they want, they don’t care what Facebook and Google will do with your information. This is called 3rd-party tracking via 3rd party cookies.
Blocking 3rd-party cookies never breaks the core functionality of any website, therefore you can safely block them to protect your privacy.
The Brave browser’s default setting is “block cross-site cookies”, which is the correct option you can use.
If you visit nytimes.com, then the Brave browser will allow cookies served by the nytimes.com domain only. Cookies served by any other domain than nytimes.com will be blocked, which is what you would want.
The other two options provided by the Brave browser are:
- Allow all cookies — this will allow all the cookies, no matter which domain these cookies come from.
- Block all cookies — This will block all the cookies including the ones served by nytimes.com. You shouldn’t use this option, otherwise, you may not even be able to login to any website, including your bank website.
I will not take you into technical complexities here. You just need to know that fingerprinting is the technique that is used by almost all the websites to recognize you as an individual in a situation when they can’t identify you by your name or email address.
So you need to block it if you can.
What is Fingerprinting
Every tracking company wants to track you as a uniquely identifiable person. If you login to Google or Facebook account, they know who you are. But what if you visit a website, which doesn’t require you to log-in. They can’t uniquely identify you as an individual.
That’s where the fingerprinting comes into play. They are technologies available, which tries to identify you as close as possible, using the properties of your device and browser you use. This technology is mainly called device-fingerprinting or browser fingerprinting, which identifies you without your login or personally identifiable information.
It doesn’t automatically block device/browser fingerprinting attempts, but you can safely set this option to “Block All Fingerprinting”. Be assured that if you do that then none of the website functionalities will be affected.
Similar to 3rd-party cookies, blocking fingerprinting never breaks the core functionality of any website, therefore you can safely block them to protect your privacy.
Brave is a privacy-first browser, but the one thing which I don’t link about its default setting is that it still uses Google as the default search engine, which actually defeats the purpose of privacy protection.
If you are not comfortable, you can leave this setting unchanged, but I highly recommend to choose “DuckDuckGo” as the search engine, if you want to protect your privacy. DuckDuckGo is the privacy-focused search engine and doesn’t track your searches.
I have covered the most basic settings for the Brave browser for an average Joe. However, you can go through each of the settings in detail and feel free to let me know any of your questions or concerns in the comments. As I always say, I will be more than happy to help and clarify anything to help you protect your privacy online.