With the recent data breaches, security vulnerabilities and other unwanted risks online, many of you have been asking me what is my preferred web browser. And the answer is, as always, “It depends”. Below I will summarize the details of 3 of the most popular browsers and one bonus. And I’ll explain to you what features and default settings influence my choice in browser. If you don’t have time or patience to read through all of it, you can always skip to the end for my conclusion.
A few remarks before I start the comparison
Even though these browsers are available on a wide range of devices, my tests and analysis were performed on a windows 10 operating system. But all of these browsers are available and have the same features on MacOS and Linux as well.
I used following metrics
Privacy: You know those cookies that give you a popup’s at every new website thanks to Europe’s GDPR laws. But this goes a lot further: How do the different browsers deal with privacy and security: Do they have “tracker blockers” and if they do, is it on by default, do they offer easy pre-sets to improve your security?
Security: The browser is your main gate to the bad online world out there. It is what you use to browse the web which is full of traps, hackers and malicious people. That is why those browsers need to update and patch all the time. As soon as a security vulnerability arises, developers need to close it as quickly as possible. Another crucial security feature is the difference between HTTP https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertext_Transfer_Protocol & HTTPS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTPS : It is NOT safe to browse on an HTTP website. So you expect your browser to warn you about unsecure websites. And preferably in well understood clear text.
Performance: How many system resources (aka CPU, Memory,…) do the browsers use. At first you might think that this does not impact you that much, because most laptops have enough resources these days. But if your browsers constantly uses less CPU then others for the same work, then that will in turn reduce the power consumption (especially interesting on mobile devices and devices running on battery). And because I don’t have to re-invent the wheel, I incorporated the brilliant findings of Omar Bouhaj at Go-EUC, who recently put the three most popular browsers to extensive tests here: https://www.go-euc.com/2020-browser-impact/
Open or Closed source: By default I consider closed source software less secure, because the only people who can actually review what the software does are its company-employees. And companies don’t always have the best intentions to potential customers. They are often more focused on pleasing the board members and stock holders. Open source software on the other hand can be reviewed and changed by everyone. And believe me, security companies and hobby developers are constantly doing just that. I believe that the more eyes are looking at the code and discussing it publicly, the more secure the software is.
Why are trackers bad for you?
The main goal of trackers (aka Tracker Cookies) is for large corporations (think Facebook, Google, Amazon,…) to follow you around while you are browsing. In that way they can figure out what your interests are and thus try to sell you certain products based on your personal preferences. These advertisements can also be targeted by political interest, for example the notorious Cambridge Analytica case (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica), where elections were influenced by micro-targeted advertisements. When it comes to privacy and (targeted) advertisements, I always suggest that you change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo or Startpage.com. Soon I will write a separate article to inform you about my choice here.
Okay, and now for the real stuff. The comparison
By far the most popular browser. At the time of this writing (June 2021), Google Chrome has a market share of 65% according to https://www.w3counter.com/globalstats.php?year=2021&month=5. Everyone knows it and almost everyone uses it, it became the by-default web browser. And it’s secure. I mean it, Google Chrome comes with new updates all-the-time.
But they are terrible for privacy. Google is famous for collecting data and that’s also one of their primary sources of income: “Google’s revenue is largely made up by advertising revenue, which amounted to 146.9 billion US dollars in 2020.” according to https://www.statista.com/statistics/266206/googles-annual-global-revenue/. This advertisement is completley based on how much Google knows about you.
Google chrome is also one of the worst for battery life of laptops. Looking at the resources it uses according to the comparison over at Go-EUC, they really do a bad job when it comes to managing memory and CPU.
Google chrome is not open source. Chromium is, but that’s the browser that Google Chrome is based on (just like Microsoft Edge & Brave later in this article). So since it’s not open source, it’s hard to tell what exactly the browser does.
Microsoft’s first attempt at building the Edge browser failed miserably. But in January 2020 Microsoft released a brand new Edge browser, this time based on the same open-source browser as Google: Chromium. And this time I actually almost became a fan.
Security is similar to Google: they give proper warnings when a site is not secure (when using HTTP or when having problems with it’s security Certificate). They are also very fast with new security updates when issues become known.
Seeing that the default homepage of Edge is msn.com, and that page, when I visit it today, has 18 trackers/cookies active on the homepage and gives me a very spammy impression. I don’t have great faith in their will to allow the users a private online session. And since it is so well integrated with Windows, and Microsoft is very keen on making sure that you use your windows account when logging in, the Edge browser automatically logs in to that same Microsoft account. So Microsoft does not do a very good job when it comes to privacy.
Microsoft Edge can be considered a light browser. Microsoft Edge easily uses 13 % – 15 % less RAM and up to 18% less CPU than its biggest competitor: Google Chrome. So Edge really wins this round. (according to the test mentioned earlier by GO-EUC)
Like Google Chrome, Edge is closed software based off from the Chromium open-source browser.
Firefox lays at the basis of internet as the sucessor of Netscape Navigator, since Mozilla was created by Netscape. (If you are old enough, you could remember that that’s the first popular web-browser before Internet Explorer was created by Microsoft.
Firefox’s main focus is on security and privacy. It’s community of developers is working hard to provide security and they are often leaders in creating and promoting new features that improve the user’s online privacy. And since Firefox is an open source browser, everyone can suggest changes and audit the source-code. Its code has been thoroughly researched and scrutinized by the community. So, you can be sure that there are no dodgy widgets hidden inside.
One hiccup in the privacy features: Make sure that you disable the telemetry function if you wish to be sure that no data is shared with Mozilla.
The only problem with Firefox is that it comes with a pretty big resource footprint, using similar amounts of CPU & Memory like Google Chrome and in certain cases even more.
Bonus: Brave Browser
Brave is a relative new player among the browsers. It is just like Chrome and Edge a Chromium based browser. Brave is open-source and “de-Googled”, with loads of security and privacy features like ad-blockers, tracking protection, anti-fingerprinting and automatic upgrade to HTTPS.
Cookies can be blocked completely, scripts can be blocked effectively, and when you clear your browsing data, everything gets flushed – not something that’s easy to say about products like Chrome.
A study by the Trinity College in Dublin reveiled that Brave “is by far the most private of the browsers studied”. Brave is the only web browser that did not use identifiers that allowed tracking of the IP address over time and did not share details of web pages visited to backend servers.
Conclusion: So what browser am I using?
Web browsers are constantly receiving updates. And because of that, my default browser changes from time to time. Lately I have been using the Brave Browser most of the time and I am very pleased with it. It performs well and every time I open a new tap it reminds me of how many trackers were blocked already. At least that gives me a (false?) sense of privacy. Sometimes a website doesn’t work properly on Brave, mostly because the browser blocks certain scripts or “features” that Brave considers insecure. In that case I try the page with Firefox or Edge.
So I suggest that you give Brave a try. Since it looks and feels pretty the same to most browsers, switching to it shouldn’t be a problem.
Do you agree? Or do you have any other insights. Please let me know in a comment below.