Why Experts Say You Need This New VPN Browser to Protect Your Privacy

Staying anonymous on the internet is tough to do

  • A new web browser called Mullvad is intended to keep your online life anonymous. 
  • Mullvad uses a VPN to shield what you do online. 
  • Some experts say browsers, including Mullvad, don't protect your privacy.
A secure VPN connection concept with someone working at a laptop and a VPN graphic overlaying the image.

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You might want to rethink your choice of web browsers if you want to protect your privacy. 

A new browser called Mullvad aims to keep prying eyes from what you do on the internet. Mullvad uses a virtual private network (VPN) to hide your internet activity. Experts say the new browser is a welcome change from current offerings. 

"Standard web browsers often collect and share users' personal information with third-party companies and organizations without their knowledge or consent," Krishna Vishnubhotla, Vice President of Product Strategy at cybersecurity company Zimperium, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Data such as browsing history, search queries, and location can be collected. Additionally, this information can be used to target advertising or even sold to other companies, potentially violating users' privacy. For users who want to protect their personal information and online activities, privacy-focused web browsers can provide peace of mind."

Safer With a VPN Browser?

The Mullvad Browser is developed by the nonprofit Tor Project to minimize tracking and fingerprinting. The Mullvad Browser, like the Tor Browser, is designed so it erases its users' digital footprints. The browser is free to download and works on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. There's also a Firefox extension in beta you can download.

"Developing this browser with Mullvad is about providing people with more privacy options for everyday browsing and to challenge the current business model of exploiting people's behavioral data. It demonstrates that you can develop free technology with mass-appeal and privacy in mind," Isabela Fernandes, Executive Director of The Tor Project, said in a news release. "When we collaborate, we want to drive change and raise people's awareness that digital rights are human rights."

Mullvad was designed to be used with a VPN, a service that encrypts your internet connection and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of the user's choosing, explained Paul Bischoff, a Consumer Privacy Advocate at Comparitech, in an email interview. The encryption prevents your ISP and other snoops on your local network from seeing what you do online. "Changing your IP address helps prevent websites and apps from identifying and locating you," he added. 

Not every expert is giving Mullvad a thumbs up. Amir Tarighat, a privacy expert and CEO of Agency, a cybersecurity startup, said the new browser helps specifically reduce some of the aspects of fingerprinting while diminishing some of the usability of websites designed for mainstream browsers, like Chrome. 

For users who want to protect their personal information and online activities, privacy-focused web browsers can provide peace of mind.

"The new browser likely doesn't provide anonymity beyond tools that block third-party tracking and ads," he added. "If you use it to log in to online accounts, you're still identifiable to those sites and the third parties they work with."

Tarighat also said that VPNs don't necessarily provide privacy on the public web. For example, when it comes to advertiser fingerprinting, even if you use a VPN, you'll still be identifiable based on your device and browser. "If you log into an online account, you'll be identifiable by those with or without a VPN," he added. 

Other Options for Browser Privacy

Mullvad isn't the only option when you are looking for more private internet browsing. The Tor Project themselves have a privacy-focused browser, Mike Parkin, Senior Technical Engineer at Vulcan Cyber, said via email. DuckDuckGo offers a privacy-enhanced browser on mobile along with their privacy-focused search engine. There are extensions for Firefox and Chrome that can also enhance user privacy.

"The reason these privacy-enhanced browsers exist is because the developers realized people care about their privacy," Parkin said. "They don't want to be Facebook or any other social media or advertising company's product. Taking advertising out of the equation means they need a different business model, but there are enough people who care about privacy to keep projects like Tor and the Tor browser afloat."

Someone working at a desktop computer with a VPN displayed on the screen.

NicoElNino / Getty Images

If you are looking for the highest levels of privacy, Tarighat recommends using a Qubes OS computer that runs through Tor. Qubes OS runs every application or window in a separate virtual machine, meaning you could have two separate Firefox instances running on two separate virtual machines. 

"So I can have one running my online banking and one connected to a social media account, and neither would be 'related' to each other even if they were fingerprinted," he added. "All of your browser traffic is completely private and separate from each operating system and is not tied together."

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