Our 4 Best Privacy Browser Picks for Android
This post was originally published on 14 APR 2021; this an update to the last revision 17 FEB 2022.
Most Android phones come from the factory with Google Chrome installed. As you're more than likely aware, Google Chrome is highly detrimental to your online privacy. Of the Android phones that don't, they may come with another manufacturer browser that proves non-privacy friendly and/or has questionable security.
This leads Android users to looking for an alternative browser - ideally one that respects the privacy of its users. Fortunately, most Android phones make this easy; Google Chrome can be uninstalled and replaced it with a privacy-respecting alternative such as one recommended here.
Please be aware that _not_ all browsers listed here are **readily found in the Google Play Store**. Most listed here are indeed free but many of the truly privacy-respecting browsers for Android are found off the Google Playstore; instead you can find them on F-droid.
The browsers listed here are not put in any particular order. Each browser has its own pros, cons, and special use cases. Users will want to evaluate their specific needs and wants in a browser before selecting one - but there's no reason not to download and try all browsers listed here!
Regular Firefox (not necessarily Firefox Focus in this case) is a solid Google Chrome alternative on Android. It runs on Fennec (the Android version of Gecko on Android), so it's free of direct dependency on the Google-led Chromium project. Firefox is actively developed and maintained by Mozilla.
The real power of Firefox on Android comes from its ability to use addons (or extensions), similar to the desktop version of the browser. (For comparisons sake, downloading extensions is not readily supported by the iOS ecosystem as of writing.)
Unfortunately, the number of addons readily available for Firefox on Android aren't nearly as extensive as what can be found in the library for the desktop version. However, the ad/tracker blocking extension, uBlock Origin, is available for download and installation and is a definite win. uBlock Origin is the gold standard in open source ad and tracker blocking in browsers; it's often highly recommended in the privacy community
Ultimately, privacy extensions are what really turn Firefox into a privacy-browser powerhouse on the Android platform.
However, users should keep in mind that more add-ons equal more "bloat," which can wear on any given Android device's hardware, such as the device's CPU and RAM. CPU and RAM are already notable limitations on many Android devices, so additional strain on these hardware resources can slowdown or otherwise hamper the overall browsing experience should there be an abundance of addons installed.
Bromite is a free, open-source, chromium fork, and is a true privacy-focused browser that has a lot of good things going for it.
Understand that while Chromium was created by Google, it is open-source and can be "de-googled." (Ever heard of Ungoogled Chromium?)
De-googling, similar to Ungoogled Chromium, is precisely what Bromite does; it disables many of the features found in base Chromium that can easily compromise user privacy. Many of these features include constant phoning home of various data to Google's servers.
Bromite also features full ad-blocking capability. Similar to the blocklists (such as EasyList) used by trusted browser plugins like uBlock Origin, Bromite can also utilize specific blocklists to augment, enhance, and fine-tune its ad and tracker blocking abilities. You can also add your own filters as well. However, the process isn't that easy for some users.
Additionally, Bromite features other privacy and security-enhancing tweaks. The browser can scramble your user-agent string, making it harder for websites and web apps to identify your device and any special characteristics it may have (think: screen resolution, make, model, version of software running, etc). Bromite also strips "smart search" by default, allowing users to search in private. On the web, it will also disable AMP (accelerated mobile pages - a Google project/initiative) and click-tracking.
These additional features help fight against extensive tracking techniques and fingerprinting that are regularly carried out to extremes by the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the rest of the BigTech horde.
Bromite supports Always on Incognito, where it won't store your browsing history or cookies between browsing sessions; it goes a step further by supporting the configuration of proxies, which help add a layer of protection between the websites your browser connects to.
Not to mention that since it disables many privacy sensitive features by default and blocks a ton of trackers (and ads as a whole), it's not as bloated as the likes of Google Chrome. This allows Bromite to be lighter on the limited resources of your Android device, enabling faster load times and more responsive experience as you browse.
You won't be able to find Bromite on the Play store, but it's available on Bromite's website and the open-source F-Droid repository.
Ice Raven is an open source Firefox fork maintained by a broad community of differing developers. There are a core of developers behind it called the Ice Raven Project.
Ice Raven's main mission is to provide the user (you) with enhanced customization options and information about how the web browser interacts with visited pages.
Essentially, this means that the browser aims to give you control over how the browser operates and it aims to be transparent with its online connectivity.
A solid testament to this mission is that Ice Raven has support for about:config options. The options available for customization via about:config makes it more similar in customization potential to desktop versions of Gecko powered web browsers such as Firefox, Waterfox, and Librewolf.
Additionally, Ice Raven has broad support for extensions that aren't necessarily supported by other fenix based browsers. It's worth noting that some add-ons may not work due to missing Mozilla-related dependencies.
You can also request add-ons that aren't available on fenix by opening an issue on Ice Raven's GitHub repository.
Ice Raven also aims to strip as much telemetry or proprietary code with its source code as possible. This is while maintaining the goal of giving the end user more options that may not get while using other browsers.
Ice Raven can't be found on Google's Play Store. Releases are published as
.apk files to the Ice Raven Github repository.
Mull Browser is forked from Fenix - which is Firefox (or more specifically, GeckoView) on Android. It's open source but is primarily developed by DivestOS, who also develops other privacy-conscious applications and the unofficial fork of LineageOS by the same name.
The coolest thing about Mull browser is that it's pretty much privacy hardened from the go. Mull browser both enables many features from the Tor uplift project and uses preferences from the arkenfox user.js project.
Despite its out-of-the-box privacy hardening, DivestOS (and also avoidthehack) strongly recommends installing the uBlock Origin extension. As you may or may not know, uBlock Origin is a staple in the privacy community; it blocks wide-spectrum trackers, ads, and additional tracking methods on a webpage without compromising your privacy on its end.
Most notably, Mull browser eliminates many proprietary blobs (read: closed-source source code) from its own source code. It accomplishes this by using a script developed by Relan.
Mull Browser is available on F-droid; you won't be able to find it Google's Play Store.
Criteria for private browser recommendations
At a minimum, to be listed as a recommendation on avoidthehack, privacy-oriented browsers must:
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.
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.
On Android, you have numerous options for browsers; even of the privacy-focused variety.
Even of the privacy-focused variety, some browsers not found on this list will do very little for your privacy.
In fact, untrustworthy browsers can harm your privacy by silently feeding sensitive information back to the developer or some remote web server.
Be aware that true privacy browsers, such as the ones found here, give you more than just "inprivate browsing."
They also give you more than just a mere illusion of privacy, which can be equally as dangerous as outright invading your online privacy.
Any browser on this list gives you more control over what information you share - unknowingly and knowingly - with the websites that you visit.
With that in mind, stay safe out there!