At this point, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox are all modern, functional, and perfectly serviceable Web browsers. They each offer a robust set of interesting features, extensions, and plugins and each has a highly customizable settings page that should meet the needs of almost any user. Unfortunately though, nothing comes free, and the big four browsers are, by design, mechanisms used by Microsoft, Google, Apple, and the Mozilla Corporation respectively to track their users online and sell their browsing data to the big data brokerage firms. Nearly any built-in feature that curbs tracking is turned off by default and must be actively sought out and implemented by privacy conscious users.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of alternative browsers available online, with new ones popping up so often that it borders on the overwhelming. Many of these browsers are built on the idea of revolutionizing the Internet browsing experience, but some are specially tailored to better guard user privacy and security and those are the ones in which we are interested.
The ZipZap browser makes our list because of the unique niche it attempts to fill as the family friendly browser. It may not offer, by default, the most secure or private browsing experience, but it does give parents the opportunity to exert some serious control over their kids’ Web-surfing activities. With ZipZap, every member of the family gets his or her own browsing account, over which the primary admin (mom and/or dad) can implement a number of controls, among them: the ability to establish pre-set filters that prohibit access to various categories of perhaps inappropriate or even just distracting online content, trusted friends with whom the kids are automatically allowed to connect and interact (when you want them to), and easily accessible age and gender appropriate targeted activity links.
Best known for their work as a digital certificate* authority, or maybe for a March 2011 incident in which hackers managed to compromise their certificate holdings, Comodo’s Dragon Internet browser bills itself as the security-conscious browser. Like ZipZap, Comodo Dragon is based on the source-code of Google’s open-source Chromium browser. The Dragon browser claims privacy enhancements that go above and beyond those implemented by default in Chromium, including domain validation technology that prioritizes more trusted certificates over less trusted ones and prevents cookies and spyware and all other browser tracking.
Dooble is another self-proclaimed privacy-centric browser available on Linux, Mac, and Windows machines. It offers its users an allegedly easy-to-use cookie management and expiration system, which can be customized to automatically delete cookies in “a timely fashion.” Dooble also encrypts the user information it retains and gives them more control over unwanted and potentially harmful third-party content.
OmniWeb is a Mac alternative to Apple’s Safari browser. It caught our attention because, in addition to the standard ad blocking, it lets users block any and all content coming from known ad servers. OmniWeb also lets users block content that requires Flash, which is nice because Adobe’s Flash player is, like Java, one of those software platforms that is just constantly hindered by security problems.
Camino is another Safari browser-alternative, but its creators seem slightly more interested in its security features than OmniWeb’s. The Camino browser offers the same default phishing and malware protection services built into Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. There is also an “Annoyance Blocking” feature that blocks pop-ups and automatic Flash animations. Users that want Flash to run automatically on certain sites can seamlessly add an exception to allow Flash or even pop-ups on specified websites.
SRWare Iron is another Chromium-based browser that touts itself as the Chrome browser without many of Google’s privacy-violating features, like search suggestions, error reporting, URL tracking, and other features that require Google to track user behavior online. SRWare Iron contains a default ad blocker that is not enabled in the standard Chrome build.
The alternative search engine, DuckDuckGo, is also worthy of mention. While it is not a full browser, it does offer solid search results without tracking user behavior and it does not deploy a filter bubble based on user browsing behavior. In other words, unlike Google’s search where the same searches yield different results for different users, identical searches on DuckDuckGo will always yield the same results without user tracking bias.
*Digital certificates are online signatures that go along with browsing traffic and downloads. The digital certificate system is based primarily on user-vendor trust and, very, very simply put, it exists as a means of ensuring that downloads are coming from who they claim to come from and outgoing traffic is going to where it is supposed to go.