Which web browser respects your privacy the most?

Privacy and security are two aspects that web browsers have focused the most on lately. But not all comply with what is desired.

The current Internet is based on a relationship of trust between those who access an online page or service and those who provide that service. Around there are more actors, such as advertisers, advertising and web analytics companies, web developers, Internet providers and a long etcetera.

And the complexity of the Web, as we know it, is such that we must choose on a daily basis what part of our privacy we want to give to the page we visit, to our web browser or to other Internet users. It’s not just about posting a message on Twitter or a photo on Instagram. Data such as which pages you visit, from which device, your searches and likes are collected by search engines and other Internet actors. The objective, sometimes, to personalize your experience, but in other cases, that data becomes merchandise for advertising.

Thirdly, web browsers have decided to take part in this decision, which part of our privacy we decide to release and which not, in the form of functions that allow blocking elements that are not entirely legal to obtain statistical data about us. The question is, with so many web browsers, which one respects our privacy the most?

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An analysis of Trinity College

Douglas J. Leith is a member of the School of Computer Science & Statistics at Trinity College Dublin. He recently published a study summarized in a 14-page report that you can freely consult in PDF in English and that has the suggestive title of “Web Browser Privacy: What Do Browsers Say When They Phone Home?”.

The study looks at the connections that a web browser makes, but not the usual connections that are made when you type in a website address or search for something on Google. In this case, the analyzed connections are those that the web browser makes to its own server for technical reasons.

The browsers analyzed are Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Brave Browser, Microsoft Edge and Yandex Browser. Specifically, their connections have been observed during normal navigation.

Privacy in the web browser

Douglas J. Leith says in his study that the analyzes carried out on web browsers focus on the functions they offer to protect your privacy. To do this, they block trackers and other hidden elements on web pages, some of them lawful but others more questionable. In addition, some also save us from phishing and malware infected websites.

But, as Leith points out, few have noticed whether the web browser itself respects the user’s privacy.

The question is, why does a web browser need to connect to its own server? The obvious answer is that every so often new updates come out that fix bugs and plug vulnerabilities. Others do it to collect generic data that help improve browser performance in successive versions.

To carry out the tests, the team of Douglas J. Leith has used two MacBooks, one with macOS 10.14.6 and the other with macOS 10.15, the two most recent versions. And to analyze incoming and outgoing connections, they have used the appFirewall tool created for such an occasion and which can be downloaded for free from their page on GitHub. The app is available for macOS 10.13 and higher versions.

The study results

If you want to know all the ins and outs of Douglas J. Leith’s study for Trinity College Dublin, you can consult the study report in PDF. But, in order not to get too long, we will focus on its results.

Of the web browsers analyzed, the one that occupies the first group is Brave, a browser that we have spoken about previously and that precisely stands out from others for its care for the security and privacy of the user. Created by one of the Mozilla co-founders, you can use Brave on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iPhone / iPad.

In the second group, according to their respect for user privacy, Chrome, Firefox and Safari are included. Last on the list are Edge and Yandex.

The study specifies the addresses to which the aforementioned web browsers connect internally. In some cases it is about asking if there is an update, in other cases it downloads content associated with the home page and in others the generated cookies and other data are sent for statistical use, such as the pages we have visited.

This study is not intended to alarm us. That your web browser sends certain information is sometimes due to functions such as autocomplete when you search for something from the navigation bar. In other cases it is due to notifications we receive from certain web pages.

All in all, and as the report shows, there are different ways to get the same results, or in this case, custom functions. And while Brave does it securely and privately, others like Edge and Yandex overreach on shared information.

If you want to know more, you can consult the official page of Douglas J. Leith and the report of the study in PDF. And if you have a Mac, you can even perform your own analysis with appFirewall.

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