Who are we kidding? There’s no such thing as a completely anonymous browser.
Nothing out there on the market today is truly anonymous, or if it is it only functions in a laboratory or highly limited environment. Anonymous web browsers have way too many trade-offs. And some of those trade-offs are huge.
But for the sake of argument, let’s look at the browser projects that come closest to full anonymity. Let’s talk about what qualifies as a contender:
It has to function on the normal Internet: Stuff like Tor and Idyll are fun toys, and really useful within their own specialized environments. For Tor, that’s the dark web using Onion routing. And for Idyll, that’s in the Utopia ecosystem. But for day to day use, they suck. Idyll can’t do normal routing and page processing, and Tor is pretty poor at keeping normal websites functional while making them ‘safe’.
It cannot be part of a non-anonymous bundle: Projects like Comodo force you to report your user data back to the devs, and require a third party antivirus install in order to function. What kind of policy is that?! The Brave browser is just ripping off Tor for its private tabs, which as we already mentioned is not good enough. They should have developed something from scratch.
So that only leaves a couple of decent candidates, and neither of them are 100% perfect.in a few years, who knows? Maybe one of these candidates might be considered a completely anonymous browser. But right now, using a privacy app such as Hoody is the best option.
So let’s look at what’s on offer.
Waterfox Anonymous Internet Browser
Waterfox is probably a good balance between privacy and usability. But they completely sold out to corporate interests. In 2020, they got bought out by a company called System1… a pay-per-click advertising firm. The conflict of interest is just dumb. There’s little to no trust left in the community since the move.
As of January 2022, they still haven’t completely screwed things up. Sure, it has the same issue it’s always had: There are required data collection pulls that get sent back to the developer.
But it isn’t all bad news. Waterfox has no telemetry tracking. And it’s fast. And it has fewer weird script errors and misrendered pages than other anonymous Internet browsers.
Waterfox is based on Gecko, not Blink or WebKit. Gecko is a layout engine that is future-oriented. Firefox’s Quantum initiative pushes the limits of GPU acceleration in web browsers, and it shows here. Sure, some legacy web pages and scripts might not display correctly in Waterfox. But that also means that there aren’t a bunch of old, crappy backwards compatibility issues to worry about.
Yes, System1’s ownership interest is a red flag. And there’s a bunch of system reporting data that goes back to the developer. Even with all that baggage, Waterfox is the best thing out there right now. It’s not a completely anonymous browser… but then again, nothing is.
Iron Anonymous Internet Browser
The runner up is a very, very distant second.
SRWare Iron is an ‘anonymous’ Internet browser that is supposed to be open source… and yet the company can’t seem to get around to releasing their source code. It’s almost a running joke at this point. The project sometimes goes several years without giving the public any access to their source code. People call them out on this, but the company ignores it. Their behavior is making people wonder just what the heck is going on behind the scenes.
As of early 2022, we have only SRWare’s word that privacy is their main concern. Who the heck actually knows what’s going on at the packet level? Examination with a packet sniffer isn’t enough. Without a good look at the source, finding subtle edits at the networking level is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Iron sounds like a fairly secure Chromium based web browser, on paper. They’ve removed Google Native Client, DNS prefetch, search autocomplete and popular suggestion, and the unique user identifier that comes with a normal Chromium tab’s creation.
It’s not as fast as Waterfox. But it’s functional enough. And at least it’s based on Blink, which is a mainstream, well examined rendering engine for web browsers.
It has a built in ad blocker and user agent switcher. But without knowing what’s in the source, how do we know what’s sufficient to protect us from anything that SRWare might have edited? We don’t, and that’s the entire issue.
Some of the projects out there are kind of on the smaller side, but they are at least using the right words and making the right gestures within the privacy community. Whether or not they can deliver a robust and completely anonymous browser in the future remains to be seen, of course.
The first project is more than just a web browser. Tails is an OS and browser combo, designed to be run entirely off of a self contained 8GB memory stick.
The Epic browser is packaged with an eight country VPN, and it has a lot of pro-privacy options. They’ve taken some time to improve their public appeal, which should help with adoption rates.
Finally there’s Dooble, which updates all the time and features its source code front and center.
None of these are mature enough to take first prize right now. But each of them shows some promise.
At the moment, you’re probably better off sticking with a traditional, highly functional web browser and using trusted security and privacy app like Hoody. That’s probably as close as you’re going to get to a completely anonymous web browser.
But I don’t want to sound like a negative Nancy. The truth is, quality browser extensions follow high quality browsers. The rendering engines that each of these browsers use allow for the incorporation of third party add-ons. So if one of our honorable mentions breaks out and becomes popular, there should be a lot of community support out there.