Stop Trackers Dead: The Best Private Browsers for 2023

Online privacy is a major concern for everyone, and by far the biggest personal privacy issues arise when you browse the internet. Why? Because online marketers of all stripes are keen to monetize you by following you around the web to track your browser activity and browser cookies, your IP address, and device-specific identifiers. The best private browsers put the brakes on those activities, making your online life at least a little more private.

In the descriptions below, we list and evaluate your private browsing software options. Further down you can read more about how online tracking works, the value of using a private browser, and more options for protecting your privacy.

Recommended by Our Editors

Best for Mac Users

Apple was one of the first major tech companies to raise the profile of fingerprinting as a privacy concern, discussing it at WWDC 2018. Safari, the default browser for Apple devices, offers some protection against this type of tracking by presenting “a simplified version of the system configuration to trackers so more devices look identical, making it harder to single one out,” according to the company’s documentation.

Safari offers minimal settings for privacy and only gets a result of “some protection” and “some gaps” on the EFF Cover Your Tracks test. The “nearly” unique fingerprint result, however, is better than most browsers (even Firefox), for which the test reports, “your browser has a unique fingerprint.” If you spring for an Apple iCloud+ subscription (starting at $0.99 per month), you can get VPN-like IP address cloaking through Apple’s Private Relay feature.

Platforms: iOS, iPadOS, macOS

Best for Built-in VPN

Avast is one of the few browsers included here with built-in VPN functionality, but using it will cost you $5.99 per month, with discounts if you sign up for a longer commitment. Avast tells you that its VPN uses the open-source, industry-standard OpenVPN protocol. A one-week free trial does not require payment info, though Avast has offered free services before with questionable nonmonetary costs.

The Avast Secure browser also features built-in ad blocking, anti-phishing features, and a password manager. Avast gives you tracker-in-chief Google Search as its default search engine, but the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool reports strong tracking protection though with a unique (traceable) fingerprinting profile. The Chromium-based browser looks good and is compatible with most sites.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows

Best for Crypto Rewards

AXplorer is a privacy-focused browser that, like Avast Secure and Opera, includes a built-in VPN. AXplorer has its own digital currency, AXIA coin, that it offers as a reward for using the software. The Brave web browser has a similar incentive. While some people will eschew anything with a whiff of cryptocurrency, the point is to create an alternative structure to letting browser companies (read: Google) monetize every detail about everywhere you go online. With AXplorer, you get paid rather than Google. To earn crypto rewards with a maximum of 15 cents per day, you sign up for an account with a simple email verification.

AXplorer is one of only two browsers (Brave is the other) to effectively block fingerprinting by randomizing the browser’s digital fingerprint that trackers use to uniquely identify you on the web. That’s based on the EFF’s CoverYourTracks test, which did, however, report that with default settings the browser only provided partial tracking protection. I tested the built-in VPN by checking my IP address’s location, and sure enough it reported that I was in London, England, even though I was actually in New York. You get a choice of four countries, random, or closest VPN server.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows

Best for Fingerprint Tracking Protection

Brave is a browser with an emphasis on privacy and ad-blocking, but at the same time, it lets you earn cryptocurrency while you browse. Like the majority of browsers these days, Brave relies on a customized version of Chromium, the code that powers Google Chrome, meaning it’s compatible with most websites. Brave has higher goals than simply letting you hoard crypto or even protecting your privacy. Its creators want to achieve a revolution in the way web commerce works, with direct micropayments taking the place of rampant ads. To earn cryptocurrency rewards with Brave, the software periodically pops up an unobtrusive ad in a box outside the browser window—you can turn it off if you prefer.

The EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool reports “strong protection against Web tracking.” A feature called Shields blocks third-party tracking cookies and ads by default. Brave forces the more secure HTTPS (something common among recent browsers) and lets you choose between Standard and Aggressive tracker-blocking and ad-blocking. Brave also has advanced fingerprinting protections that “randomize the output of semi-identifying browser features” and turn off features commonly used to sniff device info. In our brief tests, Brave and Tempest were the only browsers for which the EFF tool reported a randomized fingerprint. Brave has other security-minded products, such as a search engine, a private messaging app, and an initiative called SugarCoat, designed to thwart scripts that gather your browsing data while maintaining site functionality.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows

Best for Android Users

Bromite is an Android-only browser that’s a fork of Chromium—a fancy way to say it’s based on the code that underlies Google Chrome, edited to its needs. According to the browser’s website, Bromite is a “no-clutter browsing experience without privacy-invasive features and with the addition of a fast ad-blocking engine.” It’s not on the Google Play Store, since it’s un-Googled to the extent the developers found possible. That means you need to allow installation of its application package file (APK) in your Android Settings.

Oddly, Bromium’s default search provider is Google, though you can change it to a private search provider like DuckDuckGo. Like Safari, Bromium earned the “nearly unique” fingerprint designation, compared with most browsers’ “unique” designation. That means Bromium is a little better at preventing anyone from identifying you exactly. Bromite offers its own Fingerprinting Mitigations Test Page, though interpreting the results isn’t intuitive. Otherwise, Bromite looks and works a lot like the Android version of Chrome.

Platforms: Android

Best for Private Search

The famed private search provider DuckDuckGo now has a standalone desktop app (still designated as beta) as well as a mobile web browser app. The Chromium-based browser boasts some design niceties. For example, a flame button at the top, sort of a panic button, lets you close tabs and delete browsing data instantly. The search bar is centered and on the same line as the back and forward navigation buttons, which look clean and clear. The new-tab page offers custom site buttons and a list of previous sites visited with a count of how many trackers were found and blocked for each.

The browser also includes automatic cookie consent management for popups and support for the Global Privacy Control emerging standard. It has Duck Player for playing YouTube videos without Google ads, which worked well in testing and could be reason enough to install the DuckDuckGo web browser!

You can also install the DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials extension in your existing desktop browser to make it more private. It blocks third-party trackers, switches your search engine to its privacy-focused one, forces sites to use an encrypted HTTPS connection where available, and lets you see a privacy score for sites you visit. The extension raised Chrome’s score on the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool to “strong protection,” which was also the score for the standalone DDG browser.

Platforms: Android, iOS, extension for Chrome, Windows

Best for Ultrasound and WebRTC Protection

Like Avast and Opera, Epic Privacy Browser includes built-in VPN-like functionality with its encrypted proxy, which hides your IP address from the web at large. The company claims that Epic blocks ads, trackers, cryptomining, and even ultrasound signaling! It also blocks fingerprint tracking scripts and prevents WebRTC.

The EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool reports only partial protection against tracking ads and invisible trackers in Epic with default settings, however. You see the same result that you get with Google Chrome: “Our tests indicate that you have some protection against Web tracking, but it has some gaps.” When you tap Epic’s umbrella button to enable the built-in version of uBlock, the results improve to “strong protection” against web tracking.

The browser’s interface looks almost identical to that of Chrome, aside from the included privacy and proxy extension buttons. Otherwise, it lacks special convenience features found in competitors like Edge and Opera.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows

Best Non-Corporate Option

Mozilla has long been at the forefront of trying to improve privacy on the web. Its Firefox browser is a free and open-source alternative to other browsers. The company came up with the Do Not Track option for browsers, which Google swiftly rendered useless by discouraging its use in market-leading Chrome; that only makes sense for the company that bases much of its business on tracking users. Firefox was the first browser with a private browsing mode that could hide browsing not only from people with access to your device, but also from other sites.

Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection’s Standard setting blocks social media trackers, cross-site tracking cookies, cross-site cookies in Private Windows, tracking content in Private Windows, cryptominers, and fingerprinters. The EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool reports “strong protection against Web tracking” at this setting. Strict mode blocks trackers hidden in ads, videos, and other site content. The fingerprinting protection currently uses a list of known fingerprint trackers, but Mozilla is working on a future update that will make your browser look more undistinguishable to thwart fingerprinters.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux

Best for Tracking Prevention Options

The accursed Internet Explorer is finally far in the rearview mirror, and even its initial Edge replacement has now been replaced with a truly modern Chromium-based Edge. The Microsoft team behind Edge had privacy as a top goal when developing the browser, along with customization and productivity features like its Collections for web research and now its built-in Bing Chat AI assistance. The browser continues to innovate, with vertical tabs, forced HTTPS connections, sleeping tabs, performance boosts, and new accessibility features like enhanced contrast. Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to choose Edge as your browser.

For privacy, Edge includes tracking protection at a choice of three levels: Basic, Balanced, and Strict. According to an Edge blog post, all levels block “trackers we detect as cryptomining or fingerprinting.” But there’s no attempt to make the browser appear more generic and less identifiable as some other browsers included here do. Edge also supports Secure DNS. Edge does offer to personalize your advertising in Bing and Microsoft News; you can turn it off and visit your privacy dashboard to check your settings.

On the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test, Edge gets a rating of “strong protection against Web tracking” but only if you have tracking protection set to Strict; the test also indicates you still have a unique, and therefore trackable, fingerprint.

Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows

Best for Mullvad VPN Users

Unlike most of the other browsers here, Mullvad Browser is built on top of Mozilla’s open-source Firefox code base. The browser was created in collaboration between the Mullvad VPN service and the Tor project, and it looks just like the Tor browser, only it doesn’t offer actual Tor functionality (unlike the Brave browser).

In Mullvad’s leak test, its browser beats most others in that it reports no DNS or WebRTC leaks. The browser comes with the excellent uBlock Origin ad- and tracker-blocking extension. And the default search provider is DuckDuckGo, which is better for privacy than Google or Bing, which other browsers default to. The Mullvad browser does push you toward signing up for the company’s Mullvad VPN service, but at least it’s a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner. The browser, however, doesn’t appear to have strong fingerprinting protection, showing a unique fingerprint visible to trackers according to the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test.

Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows

Best for Innovative Features

Opera has a long history of innovation among web browsers. The Norwegian software company was the first to include tabs and integrated search in a web browser, and an Opera developer invented CSS, just for starters. Now Opera has free built-in VPN, and the company offers a gaming browser called Opera GX. The latest version is the spiffy Opera One, which adds tile-like tab management, an AI chat sidebar, and a multithreaded compositor for faster rendering.

PCMag’s VPN experts always correct me when I mention that Opera has a built-in VPN, saying it should be called a Proxy, not a VPN. The distinction is that a standard VPN cloaks your IP address from all the traffic from your computer, while Opera’s feature only applies to the browser. Opera states that it’s a no-logging VPN, which is something you should look for when choosing any VPN. It uses AES-256 encryption.

Opera also blocks ads and trackers by default, and the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test reports “strong protection against Web tracking.” It doesn’t have specific anti-fingerprinting features, so that same test says it presents a unique fingerprint, though with the VPN/proxy feature enabled that changes to “a nearly unique fingerprint,” which is a win. With its Speed Dial and sidebar of quick-access buttons to things like messaging services and frequently visited sites, Opera still stands apart from most browsers in offering some unique conveniences.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows

Best for People Willing to Experiment

Tempest is a recent Chromium-based browser that comes from a maker of a private search engine of the same name. It’s pretty much Chrome with some privacy added. The home page is set to the Tempest search, which defaults to sending anonymous usage data and to auto-completing suggestions.

You can add site buttons, but annoyingly you can’t change the startup page. I appreciate that it offers to encrypt search terms and show privacy reports for found sites. You have three levels of privacy in Settings to choose from: No Blocking, Block Trackers (the default), and Block Ads and Trackers. That’s more than you get in Chrome, to be sure.

The browser defaults to using the Cloudflare DNS server, which is better than using the one provided by your ISP. The Security settings only offer Standard Protection or none; not Chrome’s Enhance Protection, probably because the latter sends browsing data to Google.

On the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test, the browser was the only one besides Brave that reported a randomized fingerprint, which is encouraging. It only gets Partial credit for ad and tracker protection, however, even with Block Ads and Trackers selected in Settings. We’d be remiss not to mention that the software’s founder, Michael Levit, has a track record of selling previous services to Chinese outfits, but he’s taken the Founders’ Pledge and committed to donating half the proceeds of Tempest to climate change efforts.

Platforms: Android, iOS, macOS Windows

Best for Anonymity

The Tor (it stands for the onion router) browser’s slogan is, “Protect yourself against tracking, surveillance, and censorship.” It’s the ultimate in privacy protection in a browser, and the EFF’s privacy test reports “strong protection against Web tracking.” It provides a multistep encrypted route for your browsing that makes identifying you very difficult. It provides even more privacy than a VPN because your encrypted traffic goes through at least three nodes. The first node knows the source but not the destination of the traffic, the middle ones know neither, and the last only knows only the destination. This system makes it nearly impossible to trace traffic back to you. The downside? It slows down your browsing.

If you crank up Tor to its safest level of protection and disable JavaScript, a lot of common sites won’t run—basically anything that features interactive content, such as YouTube. Tor lets you access sites that use its own onion protocol that’s separate from the standard web, often called the dark web, in addition to providing privacy and access to the standard web. The EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool reports “strong protection against Web tracking” but that “your browser has a unique fingerprint.” Changing the browser’s privacy setting to Safest results in top protection for fingerprinting. That said, there’s not much you can do on the web at that setting, since it disables JavaScript.

An even more private way to run Tor is through Tails, a lightweight operating system based on Ubuntu that you run off a USB drive. Tails doesn’t save any unencrypted data from your browsing session and leaves no traces on your computer’s drive.

Platforms: Android, Linux, macOS, Windows

Best for Detailed Customization

Vivaldi, an offshoot of Opera that also uses the Chromium browser code, is the ultimate in customizability among browsers. It includes innovative features like built-in translation, split-window view, tab groups, notes, a link sidebar, and mouse gesture support. It now features Workspaces, which let you group related browsing sessions.

Vivaldi includes built-in ad blocking and tracker blocking, though it doesn’t specifically attempt to thwart fingerprinters. As with the rest of the browser’s features, privacy settings are deep, broad, and granular, as you can see in the screenshot above. The EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test reported “strong protection against Web tracking” for Vivaldi with tracking protection on, though it still reported a unique fingerprint.

Platforms: Android, Linux, macOS, Windows

Best Independent Browser Engine

Waterfox is one of only a few browsers based on Mozilla’s Gecko web rendering engine, the same one that powers Firefox. The organization behind Waterfox recently became independent of its corporate owner, so it’s now an open-source project. The browser’s docs include a clear, reassuring privacy policy, and it uses the same Enhanced Tracking Protection as Firefox. The browser site claims that “unless you specifically register for a web service with us, we do not want or touch your personal data.” The tracking protection in Waterfox is identical to that in Firefox, which claims to protect against social media trackers, cross-site tracking cookies, fingerprinters, crypto miners, and trackers hidden in ads, videos, and other content. For a bit of added privacy, you can turn off WebRTC.

Like Firefox, Waterfox lets you sync bookmarks, history, tabs, passwords, add-ons, and settings. The browser uses Oblivious DNS, which obscures your website requests from your ISP, a boon to privacy. You can also use any extensions and themes designed for Firefox. The EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test reports some protection against tracking with Waterfox’s default privacy setting, but switching that to Strict gets a Strong protection result from the test. With either setting, the test reports a unique fingerprint, despite the browser’s claim to fingerprinting protection, which, like most of the browsers here, only uses a block list rather than randomizing fingerprint data the way Brave does.

Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows

How Are You Being Tracked on the Web Right Now?

The two most significant ways you are being tracked on the web right now are with cookies and digital fingerprinting.

Cookies are small bits of data that websites deposit in your browser’s storage to keep track of where you’ve already logged in and other site activity, such as when you have items in an online shopping cart. They’re essential to making the web more usable. Privacy issue arises with third-party cookies—those that are dropped into your browser not by the site you’re viewing but another entity, most often Google, Facebook, or an advertising service. Other websites then have access to that information, letting them peruse your internet trail.

Digital fingerprinting is a method of using web page headers and JavaScript to build a profile of you based on your system configuration. Your browser fingerprint can consist of your browser type and version, operating system, plug-ins, time zone, language, screen resolution, installed fonts, and other data. That means even if you turn off third-party cookies, sites may still be able to identify you via fingerprinting. (Google has stated it plans to remove support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser but keeps pushing out the date for when it will happen, with the latest announcement moving it from 2023 to 2024.)

Fingerprinting is a more worrisome privacy concern than cookies. You can delete cookies at any time, but unless you get a new device or use a browser that randomizes the info, you can’t escape your digital fingerprint. Brave was the only browser in our testing that revealed randomization of fingerprint info.

Another issue is the long string of characters some sites add when you copy a web address. Those identify you as well. A browser extension called ClearURLs can help protect that kind of tracking.

Is Incognito Mode Safe?

Private browsers are different from, and in some ways better than, so-called incognito or private browsing mode in a typical browser. Those modes simply remove browsing history from a session so that someone using the browser after you doesn’t see what websites you’ve been browsing. Passwords, cookies, and browsing history are gone after you close the private session, but the mode doesn’t protect you from tracking by the sites you visit. Mozilla has a list of common myths about private browsing mode that’s helpful on this topic.

How Can You Prevent Web Tracking?

Some browsers do more to protect your privacy. For example, Edge and Safari, block known fingerprinters based on block lists, and Firefox is working on a behavioral blocking system that alerts you if a site tries to perform actions that look like fingerprinting—for example, trying to extract your hardware specs using the HTML Canvas feature. That experimental Firefox tool removes identifying data used by fingerprinters.

The Brave browser, Avast Secure Browser, and Apple’s Safari already have features that obscure data such as “device and browser configuration, and fonts and plug-ins you have installed,” according to Apple’s site.

Another privacy protection landing in browsers such as Firefox and Edge lately is support for more-secure DNS protocols. That’s the system of servers that your browser contacts to translate text web addresses into their number equivalents that web servers use. By default, your ISP’s DNS servers provide this translation, but secure browsers now use DoH (DNS over HTTPS) to both encrypt the connection and prevent your ISP from sending your unfound browsing requests to their search providers. For more, read How (and Why) to Change Your DNS Server.

How Do You Know If You’re Trackable on the Web?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes a Cover Your Tracks webpage to test your browser’s susceptibility to tracking and fingerprinting. It uses a real tracking company—the name of which it does not reveal—for its tests. Be forewarned: It almost always reports that your browser has a unique fingerprint. Note that, Chrome at best only shows Partial protection and a unique fingerprint on this test. Other tools you can use to see your digital fingerprint include AmIUnique and Device Info. The latter has a section indicating whether any fingerprinting protection is detected.

If you still want to use Chrome or another browser that doesn’t offer tracking protection, you have recourse in plug-ins that may help protect your privacy, such as Decentraleyes, DuckDuckGo, PrivacyBadger, or uBlock Origin. Just note that at some point Google will switch Chrome to a platform called Manifest V3 that will undermine these extensions’ ability to protect you.

Which Browser Is the Most Private?

Brave and Tor have the most effective protection against tracking among the browsers included here. Brave was the only browser for which the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks test reports strong protection and a randomized fingerprint. Not only that, Brave has a private window mode that uses Tor, which routes your traffic through multiple proxies to make you anonymous online. AXplorer and Opera have a convenient built-in VPN that shields you from ISP snooping, though with that, the VPN provider can see all your traffic—with Tor, you don’t have that issue, and a VPN doesn’t affect your browser fingerprint.

As with everything in life, there’s no such thing as perfect security or privacy. But using one of the browsers included here can at least make it harder for entities to track your internet browsing.

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