Avoid The Hack: 6 Best Privacy Browser Picks for Linux and macOS

/ data privacy, web browsers

This post was originally published on 16 MAR 2021; it has since been updated and revised.

Linux and macOS users: avoidthehack! could never forget about you!

While many of the privacy browsers for Windows also work well on Linux and MacOS, naturally we believe that the Linux and MacOS Systems deserved their own list of recommended privacy browsers.

As we must remind you, if you are using Chrome on your Linux/macOS machine, please do yourself a big favor and ditch Chrome.

You're already on Linux, so just make that small leap to a browser that respects yours (and others') privacy!

So, without further ado here are our best privacy browser picks for Linux/macOS users.

Ungoogled Chromium

official updated chromium logo

If you're either 1) using Google Chrome or 2) simply need a Chromium-based browser for whatever reason while on your Linux or macOS machine, Ungoogled Chromium is your best bet.

Ungoogled Chromium is just what its name implies; it is the de-googled version of Chromium.

(Chromium is the open-source framework developed and mostly maintained by Google. It is also the same code-base that regular Google Chrome is derived from.)

Ungoogled Chromium strips the source code and dependencies that make callbacks to Google's servers, such as Google Location Services.

In turn, your privacy is better maintained because your browser isn't directly communicating/sharing information with these remote servers.

Additionally, the default settings for Ungoogled Chromium are privacy friendly as well.

For example, there is no set default for search providers when you open the browser. It's also set to automatically wipe your browsing session - such as cookies and browsing history - when you close it. Both of these features can be changed from within the settings.

This browser is fast, lightweight, and compatible with most Chromium based extensions - including those found in the Chrome Web Store.

It helps that Ungoogled Chromium probably runs its best on Linux, given you're running a compatible distro.

Download Ungoogled Chromium Ungoogled Chromium Setup Guide


official firefox quantum logo

If you're on a Linux-based system - especially a Debian variant - you'll might find Firefox pre-installed on your operating system. To "harden" Firefox please refer to the avoidthehack Configuring Firefox for Privacy guide.

Firefox has been around for a long time. It is tried, true, and tested in many ways. It has consistently proven reasonably fast, reliable, and secure.

In fact, nowadays, it is one of the few noteworthy browsers with a significant enough share of the browser "market" that doesn't rely on a Chromium engine.

Rather, it runs on Mozilla's own Gecko Engine, which is coded with the C++, JavaScript, and Rust (as of 2016, with the introduction of Firefox Quantum) languages.

It is important to understand that Firefox doesn't come configured for user privacy from the get-go.

There are many tweaks - both basic and advanced - to be made before you can call it privacy focused. Additionally, it is highly recommended to install add-ons that help preserve your privacy, such as a reliable tracker blocker.

Firefox has supported Linux systems for a long time, so installing, running, and configuring it should be a breeze; it should be as easy as typing sudo apt-get install firefox in the command line interface (CLI) on many Linux systems.

Download Firefox Configure Firefox for Privacy


libre wolf logo

LibreWolf is a community-driven Firefox fork that focuses on privacy and security; specifically, its goal is to put "user privacy, security, and user freedom first." It's the successor to the now defunct Firefox fork, LibreFox.

In a sense, it's pretty similar to Ungoogled Chromium in terms of principle; where Ungoogled Chromium strips the Google out of Chromium, LibreWolf places an emphasis on stripping all Mozilla telemetry and Mozilla-dependent services from the Firefox source code.

LibreWolf comes with many of the privacy and security-related about:config settings already tweaked out-of-the-box. This helps make LibreWolf more universally user-friendly, as there are less settings for the average user to worry about tweaking. It also features other privacy and security enhancements, to include:

  • Removal of Google Location Services
  • Removal of Google as a search option
  • An extension firewall where extensions are limited in their abilities to initiate their own network connections
  • Resists common fingerprinting techniques out-of-the-box
  • Disables the saving of login information.

Additionally, LibreWolf comes with uBlock Origin, a privacy-focused and privacy respecting wide spectrum tracker blocker, already installed and ready to go. It's already configured to utilize private search engines such as Searx or Qwant.

Since LibreWolf cuts out a lot of bloat from the Firefox source code, it's pretty lightweight and fast. It consumes less resources and is responsive on most systems.

LibreWolf is updated frequently, and it appears to keep up with the latest stable Firefox source code. Despite the developers' impressive speed of releasing new versions it's important to note that Librewolf is not directly affiliated with Mozilla.

Download LibreWolf Install Guide

The TOR Browser

official tor logo

If you didn't know already, the TOR browser is a hardened version of Firefox that is configured to run on the TOR network. Additionally, it is free, open source, and managed by the Tor Project.

(TOR = The Onion Router)

Tor directs your traffic through a worldwide relay, which makes it significantly harder for a website to 1) identify you/your device and 2) trace your internet activity directly to you, the user.

The more relays or "layers" put between you and your ending destination, the harder it is for a website to trace your activity back to you. This fact makes Tor the best option for combating internet tracking and fingerprinting practices. However, this relay hopping often makes connection times suffer.

This concept was originally - and somewhat surprisingly - introduced by personnel at the U.S. Naval Research Lab (NRL) in the mid-1990s.

Before using Tor, you should be aware that while it does a good job protecting your privacy, it does make you stick out like a sore thumb.

This means that most websites are going to know that you're using Tor (not necessarily that it is you using it) and may adjust accordingly. You may be denied services/access to a website while using Tor.

Additionally, be aware that Tor doesn't hide your internet activity from your ISP (Internet Servie Provider). If you need to mask your internet activity from your ISP, you're much better off using a good VPN service.

Download TOR

Falkon (Linux Only)

falkon browser logo

Falkon is a unique browser. Instead of being powered strictly by Chromium or Gecko, Falkon utilizes QtWebEngine as its rendering engine. Both Falkon and QtWebEngine are free and open source software.

On a more technical level, QtWebEngine does use code from Chromium but it removes the likes of binaries and Google-related services. Furthermore, it builds from other compilers other than Google and the codebase is more modularized, allowing the use of other system libraries.

Falkon is developed and maintained by the KDE community.

Falkon's basis on QtWebEngine allows it to be a lighter browser than most other browsers utilizing Chromium or Gecko. Falkon itself has humble beginnings but has many of the common features of a full-fledged browser despite its lightweight footprint.

Falkon features a solid, built-in ad/tracker plugin that is enabled by default. This adblocker is robust and appears to use the same blocking lists employed by the trusted uBlock Origin such as EasyList.

Like uBlock Origin, you also have the option of adding custom lists to Falkon's built-in adblocking capabilities. There's also the capability of using more specific custom rules (as opposed to an entire list) to fine-tune ad/tracker blocking.

Falkon is available for download via Flatpak. It can also be built from source via its repository on GitLab.

Download Falkon

Badwolf (Linux Only)

bad wolf logo

Out of all the browsers on this list, Badwolf has the smallest footprint on your system's resources.

That's because it's described as a "minimalist" browser. Apparently, its core functions use less than 500 lines of code and it makes use of components that already exist.

Naturally, this makes the browser blazing fast.

Also, while being exceptionally minimalist, it is still focused on preserving user privacy. Badwolf doesn't track you at the browser level (read: send data about your browsing habits to any remote servers) and disables JavaScript as a default.

It has its own containers for different tabs - what's open in one tab isn't "known" by any other. This proves helpful in preventing cross-site tracking scripts from tracking you across the web.

Badwolf is based on the WebKitGTK+ framework. WebKitGTK+ is an open source project that is ported from the WebKit engine. As a result, it can handle native WebKit extensions.

You can download pre-assembled packages for your appropriate distro or assemble Badwolf from source yourself.

Download Badwolf

A word on Safari (macOS only)

If you're a macOS user, then you already know that Safari is the default browser for your Mac; much like Edge is the default browser for Windows machines.

However, unlike Microsoft Edge, Safari isn't absolutely terrible for privacy. Don't get it twisted - it is far from the best, and I wouldn't call it a privacy browser.

But it does have a leg up from Edge, and with the appropriate tweaks, Safari can be somewhat decent at blocking some level of tracking.

For example, as of the Big Sur (and iOS 14) update, Safari now allows you to view what websites are tracking you via its Privacy Reports.

Additionally, as of late 2021, WebKit (the engine that powers Safari) is now open source. While this doesn't necessarily make Safari itself a totally open source browser, it does pave the way for developers to potentially create a similar privacy-browser fork using the same engine that powers Safari.

However, it does very little for combating fingerprinting practices, even once tweaked.

Also, Safari, like Edge and Chrome, does phone home to Apple quite a bit. Apple says what data is collected is anonymized, but as with most closed-source software, these claims aren't easily verified.

Thankfully, most of this telemetry sent to and potentially collected by Apple can be disabled, but does that necessarily mean they're not collecting anything? Again, given the closed nature of Safari and most of the Apple ecosystem, it's hard to say.

Officially, Apple's Safari hasn't been released for Linux distros despite macOS and Linux both deriving from UNIX. But again, since WebKit has officially become open source, perhaps this could change in the near future.

Criteria for private browser recommendations

At a minimum, to be listed as a recommendation on avoidthehack, privacy-oriented browsers must:

Be open-source

Given the modern state and role of the browser, browsers should be open-source to promote transparency above all else. Open-source browsers also promote customization in the form of building from source and/or forking as a default.

With that said, browsers forked from Firefox’s Gecko engine are preferred over Chromium forks.

Out of alpha or beta stages

Many browsers in alpha or beta stages are buggy or require additional attention to work properly. Additionally, a lot of browsers remain in a perpetual alpha or beta stage, never making it to a suitable release version.

Provide customization

The “best” privacy-oriented browsers provide a wealth of customization options inside the browser - without the help of extensions or add-ons - itself.

Customization allows users to tailor the browser to their wants and needs; customization in this aspect should allow for users to modify privacy-related settings, such as opting out of telemetry.

Naturally, customization is limited by the platform (operating system) on which a browser installation lives; across different operating systems, customization is relative.

Engage in limited telemetry or data collection

Browsers should not phone home any browsing related activity.

As for telemetry specifically, the browser should 1) allow users to opt-out of telemetry completely and 2) anonymize all information collected via telemetry. Browsers should not assign “unique IDs” or derive any hard to change information such as hardware UUIDs to phone home to remote servers.

Final thoughts

Linux has come a long way in recent years; there are no shortage of browsers that you can use across many of the most popular distros.

Of all these browsers available for Linux, naturally you have a smaller amount that are truly privacy oriented. However, Linux users certainly have options - in fact, some of these options aren't even available to macOS or Windows users.

On Linux, it is imperative that you pick a privacy browser that runs well on your system configuration/Linux distro.

As always, stay safe out there!

Next Post Previous Post