Xiaomi on Sunday announced that it has pushed a new update to its web browsers on Google Play that enables users to turn off the aggregated data collection in the incognito mode. The company said that the new update would be available on the Mi Browser, the company’s preloaded browser on Mi devices and the Mint Browser, available to download on Google Play. Xiaomi said that the ability to turn off aggregated data together with its approach of storing the data in “non-identifiable” structure “goes beyond any legal requirements and demonstrates our company’s commitment to user privacy.” Xiaomi updated its browsers following a Forbes report that said the Xiaomi browsers recorded the history of all websites visited by a user. Thomas Brewster, security, surveillance and privacy reporter for Forbes along with researchers, Andrew Tierney and Gabriel Cirlig in a report said that search queries, URLs and every item visited on the Xiaomi news feed were also part of the data that are being sent to servers in China. The report crucially said that Xiaomi tracked the data even if the incognito mode is enabled by the user. Tierney on Sunday said in a tweet that the updated Mint Browser “still sends analytics” to Xiaomi in the normal mode.
Updated Xiaomi Browsers “Still Really, Really Problematic”
The updated Mint Browser is said to provide users with an option to turn on a “Enhanced Incognito Mode” that uploads aggregated data stats to Xiaomi. The company said that enabling the enhanced mode aids Xiaomi to “improve your user experience.”
“This is still really, really problematic,” Tierney said in a tweet. “Which phones, OS, and browsers are updated? What is the default? Why are you gathering all of this in normal browsing mode?”
The Forbes report said that the Xiaomi browsers have over 15 million downloads on Google Play store. With the updated browser still said to be sending analytics to Xiaomi, TelecomTalk looks at the top privacy focused browsers for those considering alternatives.
Top Privacy Focused Browsers
In March, Surfshark, one of the popular VPN providers said in a blog post that “it’s almost impossible to achieve true privacy without utilizing a VPN.”
Surfshark in its post compared the popular browsers on the market including Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Safari and the “lesser-known names” including Opera, Epic and Torch browsers. The company said that the popular browsers like Chrome and Firefox “are not the most secure or private options out there but most of them can be improved a little to serve everyday needs.”
“Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer have all gained popularity over the years,” Surfshark said in its post. “However, clients who prefer them should be aware that these browsers aren’t very secure and private.”
Another popular VPN provider, NordVPN said that “Firefox is the best private browser solution among mainstream browsers.” However, the VPN company said that the users need to tweak few privacy options and install few security add-ons to make Firefox more secure. NordVPN said that users with higher preference for anonymity or those looking to access the dark web should consider Tor browser.
“No safe browser is perfect – each of them has its respective strengths and weaknesses,” NordVPN said in its post. “Another essential privacy tool is a VPN. Use it in combination with a secure browser to ensure optimal online browsing security.”
ProtonMail, privacy focused email provider in a report in December said that “it’s so important to only use browsers you know will protect and improve your internet privacy.”
“Any discussion of privacy and Web browsers must begin with Google Chrome,” ProtonMail said in its report. “Google uses Chrome as a window to peer into every action you take online. Unless you modify your Google privacy settings, Chrome records every site you visit so Google can serve you targeted ads.”
With that being said, here are the top four privacy focused browsers based on the reports from ProtonMail, Surfshark and NordVPN.
One of the popular browsers on the list with a long history, Firefox is among of the top-rated browsers on the NordVPN report and is highlighted on both the Surfshark and ProtonMail reports. The browser is available to download on iOS, Android and Desktop.
“Firefox is a convenient, fast and lightweight browser,” NordVPN said in its report. “Moreover, it is the only mainstream open-source browser, and its code has been thoroughly researched and scrutinized by the community. Thus, you can be sure that there are no dodgy widgets hidden inside.”
ProtonMail said that the features including advanced anti-fingerprinting and Enhanced Tracking Protection “make it much more difficult for third-party trackers” to follow users on the internet.
Surfshark in its report said that the Firefox community was one of the first to introduce the “Do Not Track” feature that has now become a standard in several browsers.
“A private browsing mode will not download cookies, temporary files or save searches and visited pages,” Surfshark said in its report.
Based on Firefox, Tor Browser is said to be “one of the best known privacy-focused browser” on the market. The Tor Browser is available to download on the desktop and Android platforms while there is a Tor approved open source Onion Browser for iOS users.
The browser features a multi-layered protection which enables user traffic to be relayed and encrypted three times before it reaches the desired website.
“This setup makes it impossible for Tor to keep any records about your online activity, and every time you close your session, the browser deletes your cookie cache and browsing history,” ProtonMail said in its report. “The browser itself is formatted to prevent fingerprinting, and it blocks all kinds of trackers.”
However, ProtonMail and NordVPN highlighted that the extra encryption causes the browser to be slow as compared to other browsers. The privacy and security focus would also cause Tor Browser to not support several plug-ins.
“If you are looking for a browser that will clear your cookies every time you complete your internet sessions, Tor Explorer is the best bet for you,” Surfshark said in its report.
Built on top of Chromium, Brave has its focus on privacy with a built-in ad blocker, anti-fingerprint functionality and script blocker. The browser also switches to HTTPS and supports Chrome extensions. Brave browser is available for download on desktop, Android and iOS platforms.
"Although Brave is open-source and nominally de-Googled, more suspicious users may not trust its Chromium base," NordVPN said in its report.
One of the polarizing features of Brave is the Brave Rewards, an opt-in feature that enables users to earn commission by view ads which can be used to reward user’s favorite online creators.
“However, unlike Chrome, Brave does not collect any data about your online activity. Your data remains private and on your device,” ProtonMail said in its report.
Unlike others on the list, DuckDuckGo doesn’t have a desktop browser but is available for download on Android and iOS platforms. ProtonMail highlights the browser as a “honorable mention” while NordVPN and Surfshark give the browser a miss on their reports.
With a focus on privacy, the browser automatically switches to HTTPS whenever possible and blocks trackers including ads. It has to be noted that DuckDuckGo has an extension for Firefox and Chrome that provides similar level of features like its mobile browser including protection from trackers and smarter encryption.
“One feature that does set it apart is the Privacy Grade it gives each site,” ProtonMail said in its report. “This makes it easy for you to evaluate how much data each website collects from you, with and without DuckDuckGo’s protections, at a single glance.”