Brave Browser Falls Short of Its Promises of Privacy

It’s all down to who you trust

Key Takeaways

  • Brave’s browser now defaults to its own Brave Search engine.
  • Make sure you trust the vendor of your platform and your browser.
  • Chrome and Safari can be equally, or more, private, with a few tweaks.
Brave Search engine in the Brave Browser

Brave

Brave, the privacy-first browser, now defaults to its own search engine, not Google. This should make it more private than the competition.

Brave is based on Chromium, so it’s a great alternative to Google’s Chrome browser, and can use all the same extensions. And now, it uses its own search engine. You can, of course, change the search engine for any browser, but defaults are powerful, and many people never switch. So, is Brave now the most private browser? Or are you better off tweaking Safari or Chrome? 

"When it comes to privacy...Brave performs better than other competitors due to the simple fact that it does not store users’ browsing history and personal data," Professor Nir Kshetri, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, told Lifewire via email. "Companies such as Google, on the other hand, are after users’ personal data to deliver effective ads. When it comes to security, which is related to how information is protected, Brave may not be as good as its big competitors."

Brave Search

Brave’s search engine is unusual in that it uses its own search index, instead of repackaging or remixing Yahoo or Bing results like some other independent search engines. It also doesn’t collect your IP address or your search data. Down the line, Brave will offer a paid plan that gives users ad-free search. 

Brave Search Engine search results

Brave

I tried Brave’s search engine when it launched, and found it to be quite good at basic searches. But whenever you switch away from Google, you immediately realize why everyone uses it: Google Search is just amazing. Fortunately, it’s easy to set up a browser bookmarklet to send less successful Brave searches to Google with a single click.

Reputation

An important part of privacy and security is that you have to trust vendors and platform providers. That’s one reason people prefer Safari over other browsers on iOS and the Mac—if Apple owns the entire operating system, then you’re already trusting it by default. Ditto for Google with Chromebooks and, to some extent, Android. 

"When it comes to security, which is related to how information is protected, Brave may not be as good as its big competitors."

And trust comes in large part from reputation, which is one place Brave fails. 

"Many of those in the privacy community have an issue with the company behind the Brave browser, Brave Software. The most popular one is the Binance affiliate link scandal, where Brave was ‘caught’ injecting its own affiliate link when a user would type binance into the address bar," Ashley Simmons, founder of avoidthehack, told Lifewire via email. 

Brave, or Stick With What You Use?

Most people will stick with their computer’s default browser. Brave and DuckDuckGo are there to cater to users savvy enough to know alternatives exist. 

If you use Safari, Apple’s relentless drive towards privacy makes it the best browser for most people. It can hide your IP address from websites, it stops those sites from tracking you across the web, and now, in iOS 15, it even can offer plugins to rival those in Chrome. Plus, as we mentioned, if you already trust Apple with all your data, then Safari is a no-brainer. 

Brave Browser search engine settings

Brave

Conversely, if you use Chromium plug-ins in Brave, you have to make sure they’re equally private and safe.

"While Brave supports Chrome extensions, and that adds convenience and functionality to this browser, users should approach with caution and make sure they use extensions that respect Brave’s privacy and security," Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, told Lifewire via email. 

"And while Brave is open-source and nominally de-Googled, some users may not trust its Chromium base," he added. "Brave serves ads that profit the browser over any hosted by the sites you visit, so its advertising platform may come across [as] a bit controversial."

Which is to say, if you’re already a privacy-conscious user, then you might be better off sticking with the platform you know, and customizing it to your liking. Use Brave’s search if you like, or DuckDuckGo, but vet any extensions, and use content blockers to prevent tracking and malware. It’s a lot of work, but that’s the world we live in. There’s no good one-stop answer.

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