Privacy-oriented web browsers are making a serious dent in the user base of various mainstream surfing platforms like Chrome, Safar and others.
In recent months, big-name players like Google and Apple have been going the extra mile to showcase their privacy features to the world. However, as most people are now aware, these multinational companies have business models that are centered around collecting and aggregating the data of their customers.
In this regard, growing interest in privacy-first browsers like Brave clearly suggests a collective increase in internet users’ concern over how their personal information is being accumulated, stored and utilized on a day-to-day basis.
Individuals all over the globe have become so accustomed to using free search, chat, video and other web services that they rarely understand the repercussions, especially in terms of how they are sacrificing their privacy. The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal, along with other data hacks, has shed light on the potential nefarious uses of data collection.
Expounding his views on the matter, John Jefferies, the chief financial analyst at the crypto and blockchain forensics firm CipherTrace, told Cointelegraph that privacy concerns make users shift to decentralized platforms and privacy-oriented browsers, adding:
“The topic of online privacy is even more relevant now that millions more people are working remotely due to work-from-home orders in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It is incumbent upon virtual video and web communications platforms to convey data collection, privacy practices, and security options so that remote workers understand the implications of relying on these tools for virtual meetings in which sensitive information is discussed and frequently recorded.”
The top web browsers in the market today
Despite the criticism Google has faced in recent years for indulging in various user data distribution malpractices, the company’s Chrome web browser is still by far one of the most used internet surfing platforms in the world today. However, despite all of this negative backlash, Jun Hao Tan — the senior vice president and co-founder of the Zilliqa blockchain platform — believes that it would be misguided to disregard the efforts that big-name companies are implementing in relation to their browsers.
Tan opined that one can actually argue that many of today’s mainstream browsers have started employing even more stringent privacy-preserving enhancements in the face of data privacy regulations. For example, Google Chrome recently announced that it would be phasing out third-party cookies by 2022 and has proposed a “Privacy Sandbox” with more privacy-oriented application programming interfaces for advertisers to consider for the future. Tan further added:
“When it comes to decentralization and embracing open-source software, Chrome or to be more specific, Chromium — Google’s open-source browser software project — ranks highly. In fact, Chromium has since then been adopted by many other browsers such as privacy-oriented blockchain-based browser Brave and a newer version of Microsoft Edge. However, as Chrome is led by a commercial company there may be conflicts of interest.”
Similarly, other mainstream players like Safari and Firefox have also been making notable advancements when it comes to blocking third-party cookies by default, as well as preventing websites and advertisers from engaging in cross-site tracking of their users’ web movements.
According to W3Schools’s browser use statistics, Mozilla Firefox is one of the most loved web browsers in the world today. In fact, many consider Mozilla's introduction of Firefox as a key driver for why open-source browsers have increased in popularity over the years.
Talking about the utility of this platform, Anna Tutova, the CEO of the crypto consulting agency Coinstelegram, told Cointelegraph that she personally is a big fan of Firefox because it offers a high level of security while also providing its users with a host of advanced features, such as pop-up blocking, a private browsing mode, as well as protection against fingerprinting, tracking, and malware and phishing attempts.
A somewhat similar outlook is shared by Caleb Chen, an author for Private Internet Access’s Privacy News Online blog. He told Cointelegraph that many of the extensions and add-ons that are freely available with Firefox have made it quite easy for users to access parts of the decentralized internet. Even when it comes to crypto integration, he pointed out that Firefox presents its users with a whole host of cryptocurrency wallets that can be installed with a few clicks, either as extensions or add-ons.
Opera is a highly popular web browser that has been able to amass a truly global following in recent years. Additionally, on March 30, Opera became the first major surfing platform to grant users access to decentralized web pages through its partnership with Unstoppable Domains.
Among traditional browsers, it is by far one of the most advanced in terms of crypto integration, since the company recently launched a blockchain browser called Opera Touch that comes with its very own built-in crypto wallet.
Providing his insights regarding the privacy and security potential of Opera, Ankit Bhatia, the CEO of Sapien Network — a democratized social platform built for user privacy and customizability — told Cointelegraph that Opera’s recent integration of the InterPlanetary File System protocol has been a big step forward when it comes to maximizing individual privacy. Technically speaking, IPFS is a protocol and peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data through the use of a distributed file system.
Charles Hamel, the head of crypto at Opera, told Cointelegraph that Opera’s vision from the very beginning has been to take care of its users’ data privacy and security. On the subject, he added: “For this reason, even if you aren’t accessing the decentralized web, you can use our built-in VPN or tracker blocker to protect yourself.” Similarly, commenting on the steps the company has been taking in regard to crypto-enabled technologies, Hamel pointed out:
“The first challenge to the mainstream adoption of blockchain technologies we saw and fixed was: a lack of user-friendly wallet solutions or browsers which would provide native blockchain support. We have solved this problem with our native Crypto Wallet, built into the browser (mobile and desktop). The second one was the difficulty of obtaining crypto. We have also fixed that by providing seamless crypto wallet top ups in our browser.”
With that being said, some critics have pointed out that since Opera is a Chinese-based company, there may be certain privacy-related issues that spring up in the future, especially with the Asian powerhouse’s pro-censorship stance.
Just a few years ago, the name Brave would not have elicited any response from internet users. However, according to recent data, the privacy-oriented web browser has now surpassed the 10 million monthly active users mark. In fact, according to a tweet published on April 1 by the company’s head of marketing, Des Martin, the browser’s user tally increased by more than a million people in March alone. Not only that, the platform has also been able to consolidate a creator pool of about 340,000 individuals, thereby leading many experts to believe that Brave has now entered the mainstream.
When it comes to an internet-surfing platform that provides users with a healthy mix of privacy and decentralization, many experts believe that Brave is a highly palatable option. As an open-source browser, Brave not only blocks malicious advertisements and trackers but also rewards publishers through its native Ethereum-based Basic Attention Token (BAT) that powers its blockchain-based digital advertising ecosystem. In addition to all this, the browser also comes with a crypto wallet that accommodates a whole host of popular digital assets, such as Ether (ETH), Bitcoin (BTC) and Litecoin (LTC).
In regard to why the market has responded so positively toward Brave, CEO and co-founder Brendan Eich told Cointelegraph that over the past couple of years, he has seen a privacy wave that has fueled the growth of various privacy-oriented apps. He noted: “More and more users are becoming aware that once their data is harvested by the cloud, they lose ownership and control.” However, he did concede that despite onboarding new users, retention is a key challenge, adding:
“So we keep innovating and improving on Chrome compatibility with much greater than Chrome performance due to Brave’s shields. This translates into larger circles of adoption, and also into more partnerships and ecosystem growth. As more and more decentralized apps grow and collaborate, a new landscape will represent a viable alternative to the current broken model.”
Related: Brave New World: Browser Challenging Google for the Future of Privacy
Commenting on the browser’s growing popularity, Tan pointed out that one of the key reasons why Brave has been able to capture the attention of the masses is because it recently joined the AdLedger consortium, which has many leading advertising and media giants as members, including Publicis, GroupM and IBM. Not only that, HTC also recently selected Brave as the default browser for its blockchain smartphone, Exodus. Tan further added:
“Brave is also lauded for its emphasis on speed, largely enabled by its ‘ad-stripping’ strategy which means it downloads comparatively less content from websites than any other mainstream browser on the market today.”
On the subject, Billy Rennekamp, the grants manager for the Interchain Foundation — an organization that seeks to advance the use of open, decentralized network technologies — told Cointelegraph that the team behind Brave has done a great job maximizing its browser’s ability to block ads and web trackers, as well as in offering its users access to the Tor network.
At one point in time, Apple’s Safari was one of the world’s most widely used internet browsers. However, the platform has in recent years lost a lot of its users to other more efficient options, such as Firefix, Chrome, Brave and others. In fact, Safari was initially known for its ability to block third-party cookies by default, thus preventing websites and advertisers from engaging in cross-site tracking of user behaviors online.
That being said, Safari is a close-source project — only the WebKit portion of the platform is open-source based — and thus its overall capacity to provide users with certain decentralization and privacy-related features is quite constrained.
Over the last decade or so, Tor’s global popularity seems to have increased dramatically. For starters, it is one of the most privacy-oriented browsers that one can make use of today. It not only prevents third-party trackers from keeping tabs on an individual’s surfing habits, but it also automatically clears one’s cookies and data history.
Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, Tor encrypts an individual’s traffic three times using three different nodes, all of which are decentralized and operated by volunteers. Each node peels away only one layer of encryption, so the full message cannot be accessed by an individual operator. All of this, however, results in slower surfing speeds.
Unfortunately, the Tor network has some dark associations with it as well, especially since the browser has been used by miscreants to access a whole host of darknet marketplaces where it is possible to acquire and trade illegal items, such as drugs, firearms, etc.
An up-and-coming name in the world of decentralized web browsing, Status has been gaining widespread traction among users looking to secure their digital data in the easiest manner possible. Status offers users a three-in-one platform that includes a messenger, crypto wallet and Web 3.0 browser. Speaking on the technological capabilities of this software, Rennekamp stated:
“I think Status has made privacy and decentralization core to their offering as a crypto product and it shows. Mostly through their work on Vac, the open protocol for decentralized and encrypted chat, but also through their support of the Ethereum Name Service.”
He further pointed out that the team behind Status recently launched its first public release, Whisper, which is an open protocol for decentralized and encrypted chat that was developed by blockchain auditor and Solidity developer Dean Eigenmann.
While not a pure browsing application in and of itself, MetaMask is a browser extension that is fully compatible with Chrome, Firefox, Brave and Opera. Additionally, the add-on also comes with a native crypto wallet that is extremely popular among digital currency owners worldwide.
Simply put, MetaMask provides users with one of the simplest and most secure ways to connect with various blockchain-based applications.
Will the future of internet browsing be privacy-oriented?
Despite big-name companies like Google continually pushing the narrative that they are looking to maximize the privacy of their users, the situation appears to be the exact opposite, especially since smaller players like Brave have been able to amass a large following in recent years.
In this regard, it seems as though there is a shift in market perception taking place when it comes to individual privacy and security, such that more and more people are beginning to move from centralized web browsing services like Microsoft Edge to more decentralized and transparent ones. On the issue, Bhatia said that he does not believe Google when it talks about prioritizing privacy, adding:
“I hope Brave and Opera make enough noise about their privacy features. There’s a strong potential to change perceptions about privacy and how users view their web browsers. Brave’s growth trajectory means there’s room for a major private browser in the market.”
And while Rennekamp believes that Google will most likely maintain a lead within the market segment, players like Brave and Opera have the potential to push the conversation in a more privacy-oriented direction. Similarly, Chen also believes that as time goes on and people become more tech savvy, their preference for transparent, auditable and incorruptible (decentralized and distributed) internet tools will slowly but surely grow.