On Mastodon recently, I posted a poll asking which browser that people used most often. While a standard Mastodon poll only allows you to offer four choices as answers, what I sometimes do is make the last choice “other” and suggest that people leave a comment.
The interesting part about this was that in the comments section, many people noted other browsers that they use, some of which aren’t thought of in the standard browser pantheon. Among them were GNU IceCat, Brave, Bromite, Lynx, Iridium, and an independently developed WebKitGTK+ browser called BadWolf. Brave has been discussed here before, but let’s look at some of the others:
IceCat is a Firefox fork which, in turn, is part of GNUzilla, the GNU version of the Mozilla suite. As GNU points out, “Its main advantage is an ethical one: it is entirely free software. While the Firefox source code from the Mozilla project is free software, they distribute and recommend nonfree software as plug-ins and addons. Also their trademark license imposes requirements for the distribution of modified versions that make it inconvenient to exercise freedom.” Like Tor, it does offer a few privacy protection features, such as LibreJS, HTTPS Everywhere, SpyBlock, AboutIceCat (a homepage that has links to the free software and privacy features in IceCat), and fingerprinting countermeasures. AboutIceCat is similar to about:config in Firefox.
Lynx is a text browser for the web, as mentioned in Retro Tech: What is the Gopher Protocol? Originally developed in 1992, it’s still being updated today and is available on many different platforms, including Linux, Windows, etc. Building it from source can be a bit more complicated than that of other browsers, but they have excellent documentation: Lynx Installation. While it may seem dated, Lynx is one of the fastest browsers due to its simplicity, and the fact that it doesn’t load things like images and videos. As Terence Eden’s blog points out:
I use Lynx most days. Not as my exclusive browser – I’m not a masochist – but as a handy tool. If I’m on a bandwidth constrained connection, or a site is overloaded, or I just want to browse without distraction. Lynx is where it’s at. It is also brilliant for seeing what weird markup bugs your site has.
Bromite is a Chromium fork with ad-blocking and privacy features, similar to Brave in some ways. It’s a replacement for an abandoned project called NoChromo, also based on Chromium. One of the nice things about it is that you don’t have to install any ad-blocking plugins, like UBlock Origin; it blocks all ads by default. In some ways, it’s like Firefox Focus, in that it blocks as many ads and trackers as possible, and aims for a fast browsing experience.
Like Bromite and Brave, Iridium Browser is also a Chromium fork. In a similar fashion to those browsers, it features enhancements made to improve privacy (even though it uses the Chromium code base). As they describe it:
Iridium Browser is based on the Chromium code base. All modifications enhance the privacy of the user and make sure that the latest and best secure technologies are used. Automatic transmission of partial queries, keywords and metrics to central services is prevented and only occurs with the approval of the user. In addition, all our builds are reproducible and modifications are auditable, setting the project ahead of other secure browser providers.
Some of its privacy features include:
- Disable “Use a web service to help resolve navigation errors”
- Disable autocomplete through prediction service when typing in Omnibox
- Always send “Do-Not-Track” header
- Network/DNS prediction is disabled by default
- Block third-party cookies by default
- Link auditing (<a ping=”…”>) is disabled by default
- Fetch plugins list from iridiumbrowser.de where it will be updated regularly
- Site data (cookies, local storage, etc.) is only kept until exit, by default
- Passwords are not stored by default
- Input form autofill is disabled by default
- For IPv6 probes, use a DNS root server instead of Google
- The default search provider is Qwant
- Load “about:blank” on new tabs instead of the currently set search engine and/or promotions.
- Don’t report Safe Browsing overrides.
- Don’t use autofill download service.
- Disable cookies for safebrowsing background requests.
- Disable the battery status API.
A Mastodon user by the name of lanodan mentioned BadWolf, a browser that they develop, in response to the survey. As it says on their site, it’s a privacy-oriented browser with no browser-level tracking, ephemeral sessions (no data is stored after the session ends), and it’s minimalist and customizable. It’s available on Linux distros, as well as NetBSD, OpenBSD, and FreeBSD – here are the package versions.
For more information about it, click the blog link above.
Of course, there are numerous other browsers out there, and which one you use is a matter of personal preference. These seemed interesting and had quite a few good privacy features, while still being slightly faster than Tor. Which browser(s) are your favorites?