Browsers provide our interface with the internet – it is through browsers that we view all websites.
For those of us that spend a lot of time online, the browser we choose each time we go online is likely to be both automatic and engrained, and the idea of switching may never have crossed our minds.
Perhaps it is because browsers are free that we might not consider ethics in the same way as if we were buying a physical product in a shop.
But this guide, alongside the feature on Google (which produces the market-dominant Chrome browser), demonstrates that there is a huge difference in the ethical records of the companies covered.
And when ethics are combined with privacy concerns, it’s well worth taking a conscious decision about what browser you use.
The Comodo Dragon browser provides an almost identical experience to Chrome but with added security and some privacy.
A popular alternative to Chrome is Firefox, owned by the profit-making Mozilla Corporation which is in turn owned by the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation. This tends to be the preferred browser for left-leaning people, as the ethos of the organisation is open source.
Surprisingly, Mozilla gets the vast majority of its income from Google. Mozilla signed a 3 year ‘mutually beneficial commercial agreement’ with Google in 2011 which was reported to be worth $300 million a year or nearly $1billion over the course of the agreement. This is for the browser sending users to the Google search engine.
The Mozilla Foundation’s total revenue in 2012 was $311 million. A fairly conservative estimate is that nearly 90% of its income for the year came from Google.
Tor is free anti-surveillance software and the Tor browser allows highly secure, private browsing. It's not suitable for most people's general internet use, as for example it will block plugins needed to watch video. However it is regarded as the best option for times when you want or need to be anonyomous online.
Groups such as Indymedia recommend Tor for safeguarding their members' online privacy and security. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommend Tor as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. However it should also be noted that a branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently. The company (which is a not for profit) also receives funding from the US government and military.
Web browsers store ‘cookies’, pieces of data sent from websites while you browse them. If you look at the website again, a cookie will notify the website of your previous activity. Cookies can be used to gather information about your browsing history. They can also store passwords or the contents of forms you fill in online.
This product guide is part of a Special Report on the Internet. See what's in the rest of the report.