Using A Completely Anonymous Browser

Using A Completely Anonymous Browser

A completely anonymous browser doesn’t exist.

No, this isn’t a meme. I’m not about to trail off mid-sentence and magically come up with an example of the perfect web browser with amazing privacy options. That’s because every anonymous web browser has trade-offs. And some of these trade-offs are quite big. First, let’s talk about what qualifies, in this context, as a ‘completely anonymous browser’:

  • It has to function on the normal Internet: While options like Tor and the Idyll project are wonderful, they are only truly, completely anonymous browsers in their ecosystems. For Tor, that’s the dark web using Onion routing. And for Idyll, that’s in the Utopia ecosystem. Their functionality on the clear web is either clunky or nonexistent.
  • It cannot be part of a non-anonymous bundle: Projects like Comodo have promise, but force you to report user data back to the source and require a third-party antivirus install to function. Similarly, the Brave browser is just using Tor for its private tabs, which as we already mentioned is not good enough.
  • That only leaves a couple of viable candidates, neither of which are 100% perfect, and both of which need work. In time, either of these candidates might be considered a completely anonymous browser. But at this point, just using a privacy app such as Hoody is the best, most complete alternative.

Waterfox Anonymous Internet Browser

Waterfox is probably the best balance between privacy and usability on the market today. As far as an anonymous Internet browser goes, this one is pretty feature-rich without sacrificing too much in exchange.

So what’s the catch? In 2020, they were bought out by a company called System1. System1 is a pay-per-click advertising firm. The conflict of interest is staggering.

Nevertheless, so far the privacy walls haven’t come tumbling down. It has the same issue that it’s always had that keeps it off of the true privacy path: There are required data collection pulls that go back to the developer. This is reasonable for a project that still hasn’t hit the mainstream and needs a lot of data and feedback to grow. But it’s still a blemish on the privacy side.

Now, the good news: Waterfox has no telemetry tracking. It’s fast. It has fewer weird script errors and badly rendered pages than any other anonymous Internet browser. And it looks and feels modern, unlike some sandbox-feeling privacy browsers out there.

An interesting point, which is both good and bad, is that Waterfox is based on Gecko rather than Blink or WebKit. Gecko is a very future-oriented layout engine, because of Firefox’s Quantum initiative that sought to push the limits of GPU acceleration in web browsers. This and other enhancements mean that legacy web pages and scripts might not display correctly in it. But it also means that there aren’t a bunch of old, crappy backward compatibility issues to worry about.

So although System1’s ownership interest is a red flag, and there’s certainly some system reporting that goes back to the developer, Waterfox is the best thing out there right now. It’s not a completely anonymous browser… but then again, nothing is. We’ll mention some younger upstarts that show a lot of promise in the last section, but right now, Waterfox is your best bet.

Iron Anonymous Internet Browser

The runner-up is a distant second.

SRWare Iron is an anonymous Internet browser that is supposed to be open source… and yet they seem to have a problem releasing their source code. The project sometimes goes several years without giving the public access to their source, making people wonder just what the heck is going on behind the scenes.

So at the moment, we have only SRWare’s word that privacy is their main concern. You would have to dig in with a packet sniffer to sift through everything that the browser is sending along, and even then, who knows what hidden things you might miss?

If you believe them at their word, Iron sounds like a fairly secure Chromium-based web browser. They’ve removed Google Native Client, DNS prefetch, search suggestion and autocomplete, and the unique user identifier that marks a normal Chromium tab’s existence.

It’s fast, but generally not as fast as Waterfox. It’s based on a mainstream rendering engine (Blink, a Webkit fork), which is good as far as bugs are concerned, and bad as far as having a single dominant market share that contributes to browser stagnation.

It does have a built-in ad blocker and user agent switcher. But is that enough to win people over when they can’t even release their source code once over five years? Probably not.

Honorable Mentions

There are a few projects out there that are kind of small but are at least using the right words and making the right gestures. Whether or not they can deliver a robust, functional, completely anonymous browser in the future remains to be seen.

The Epic browser has a lot of pro-privacy aspects and is packaged with an eight-country VPN. If you want a unique take on the subject. Tails is an OS and browser meant to be run entirely off of a self-contained encrypted memory stick. Finally, there’s Dooble, which updates frequently and puts its source code front and center. Both of these are great signs for things to come.

None of these are mature enough to take the prize right now. They certainly show some promise. But as we saw with Waterfox, one wrong corporate sponsorship can muddle an entire software project. As we saw with Iron, losing the public trust is simply a matter of saying ‘open source. And then closing off access to the source code.

At the moment sticking with a traditional, highly functional web browser and using trusted security. And privacy apps like Hoody are probably as close as you’re going to get to a completely anonymous web browser. But the good news is that quality browser extensions follow quality browsers. So if one of the honorable mentions breaks out in a big way. There will be a lot of community support out there.

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