Are you using Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge?
These browsers are the absolute worst when it comes to maintaining any level of privacy.
Privacy issues with Chrome
It’s really important to understand that the entire Google product ecosystem is designed to collect as much information on you as possible.
Why? Google profits off collecting your information, compiling it into user profiles, and then selling ads that target you and your interests as accurately as possible.
And guess what? Most of Google’s revenue comes from advertising.
Chrome is a Google product. Therefore, Chrome is a piece of that super data-collection ecosystem.
So, what data will Chrome collect about you?
The short answer is a lot.
- Chrome accepts all cookies, third-party and first party by default
- On mobile, Chrome will automatically share your location with your default search provider (hint: it’s probably Google)
- Chrome uses Google Location Services to get your location by possibly collecting and sending:
- Information on the Wi-Fi routers around you
- IDs of the closest cell towers
- The current strength of your Wi-Fi or cellphone signal
- Your true IP address
- With search prediction, Chrome automatically sends data about what you're typing to your default search provider
- If the default is Google, your previous search history will be used
- Your search + your search history gets added to whatever other information Google knows about
- Can’t connect to a webpage? Chrome sends the URL of the website you’re trying to access to Google in order to give you more suggestions
- Usage statistics are sent to Google by default. This includes button clicks and preferences but can also include URLs you visited, declared age, gender, and other personal information.
- “Safe browsing” can scan your entire computer to look for “unwanted software” and will also send Google data about websites you visit
- Chrome sends session and browser instance identifiers to Google (and possibly the websites you visit)
Much of this data gets stored on Google’s servers even if you don’t sign into your Google Account.
If you sign into your Google account on Chrome, then it’s for sure that your data is being sent to Google’s servers (for “syncing”).
This data is stored for long periods of time and combined with whatever other data (search history, website clicks, emails received/sent, etc.) Google has on you.
While some of the settings within Chrome can be tweaked to be more privacy friendly, doing so is often unnecessarily difficult and/or requires the help of an extension.
For example, disabling WebRTC – which can leak your true IP address to every website you visit even when you use a VPN – is impossible in Chrome.
It’s just like fighting an uphill battle.
Privacy issues with Edge
Microsoft is another serial harvester of user data and personal identifiable information.
Like Google, Microsoft runs the Bing-Yahoo search engine and has a considerable stake in the online advertising market share.
However, as you already know, Microsoft is also behind the Office-family of products, Windows, and Xbox.
The biggest privacy issues with Microsoft typically come from their back-end data exchange processes, or simply telemetry.
Telemetry: the process of recording and (automatically) transmitting the readings of a measurements (to receiving-end equipment)
Put very simply: Edge phones home (to Microsoft) about your device and your browsing habits. A lot.
- Edge sends your device’s hardware UUID (universally unique identifier) to Microsoft. For reference, UUIDs can’t be reasonably changed/deleted nor can users opt out of this
- Edge uses the same Safe Browsing service as Chrome
- Edge also uses Microsoft’s “SmartScreen.” SmartScreen will send the full URLs of the webpages you visit with Microsoft without anonymization of these URLs
- When idle, Edge will regularly talk to Microsoft servers and other services such as Skype and SmartScreen without your knowledge
- By default, Edge will send your browsing history to Microsoft (so this isn’t just limited to the use of SmartScreen)
- When you’re searching for anything, Edge sends this data to Microsoft to “predict” what you’re going to search by default
- Edge accepts all cookies, both third-party and first-party, and let’s websites store and read all cookies by default
Since Edge sends identifiers that are heavily linked to your device’s hardware, even when you’re not signed in, this information is collected and stored by Microsoft.
Just like with Chrome, Edge does not make it easy to tweak the privacy settings in your favor.
Additionally, much of the data that Edge sends to Microsoft either cannot be directly disabled, or it’s unnecessarily difficult to change the defaults.
Ultimately, what this means is that Microsoft knows that it's you using Edge.
They know it's your device running Edge and can still collect all sorts of information about your usage habits. Again, this information can include but is not limited to:
- Your precise geo-location
- Your browsing history
- Information on your searches
- If you use the "inPrivate" mode, Microsoft will collect additional info about "how" you used this function (hint: "inPrivate" isn't private)
As you can see from this overview, Microsoft Edge is a nightmare for privacy.
This is where the concept of a privacy browser - a browser that respects your privacy - steps in.
Why use a privacy-friendly browser?
There are multiple benefits for ditching Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or any other browser that doesn't respect your privacy:
1. Better privacy
By resisting common fingerprinting techniques, blocking ads, and blocking various tracking methods, privacy-oriented browsers offer better privacy over your standard browsers.
Additionally, most privacy browsers aim to limit the amount of "phoning home" they perform. Phoning home typically entails sending detailed data to the browser developer's servers - in some cases (such as with Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome) this data can include:
- Detailed, identifying device data (UUID)
- Browsing history
- Identifying characteristics
- Location data
- Extensive telemetry
Typically, when/if a privacy browser "phones home," it will not transmit such data described above. At the most, it should transmit very minimal data. Such cases can include collecting anonymous statistics/telemetry or providing specific services that the user has opted-in to.
2. Improved security
Many privacy browsers offer better security features than your standard, run-of-the-mill browser.
They can give you the ability and option to block web scripts from automatically running, force HTTPS connections for sites you visit, and address various "leaks" that occur on the browser level.
Additionally, some privacy browsers disable autofill, storing passwords, and prevent the automatic sharing of your location data when visiting websites.
3. Better user experience
When tweaked and configured as needed, privacy-oriented browsers block web elements such as ads and tracking scripts from loading. This typically results in websites loading faster, resulting in a faster browsing experience for you as the end-user.
Privacy-oriented browsers also have a tendency to be tweak/customization friendly. Meaning, they allow for tweaking so that the browser better suits the needs and wants of the particular user. It's also worth noting that many privacy-oriented browsers are forks from Firefox or Chromium, retaining compatibility with respective add-ons and extensions.
When properly configured, privacy browsers will block ads, various tracking and fingerprinting methods, and potentially harmful web scripts. This also frequently comes with the "side effect" of loading pages faster and hogging less bandwidth!