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New in iOS 14: Default Browser Choice

Safari has always been the default browser in iOS. But now you can choose a different default browser, which means you can choose one that has better default privacy features.

The privacy protections in Safari in iOS14 have been upgraded (read more here) and especially when used in combination with one of our recommended Content Blockers such as DuckDuckGo, 1Blocker, Better, or Lasso (check out the links to read our overviews) we don’t think changing your default is required, but it’s nice to have the option. 

It’s also worth mentioning that all iOS browsers must use WebKit as their underlying engine, so while there are differences between the various browser choices, there are some fundamental underlying similarities too.

iOS 14 currently allows you to select from the following browsers (after you download and install them on the App Store)

  • Chrome
  • DuckDuckGo
  • Edge
  • Firefox
  • Safari
  • Brave

We do not recommend Chrome (read why here) but would recommend DuckDuckGo, Brave, or Firefox because they each have very strong privacy-friendly features and settings. More about each of them is included below.

How to change your default browser on iOS 14

  • Download the browser you want to use from the app store, and install it.
  • Go to Settings then click on the app (it will be listed near the bottom of your settings page)
  • Click on the ‘Default Browser App’
  • A list of your installed browsers will show up – choose the one you want.
  • You’ve changed your default browser!

DuckDuckGo for iOS 14

(to read a comprehensive overview of the DuckDuckGo browser app, click here)

DuckDuckGo’s browser uses the same tracker blocker Safari does now— compared to Safari, they’re essentially the same. DuckDuckGo’s tracker blocker is powered by its Tracker Radar, an open-source data set full of known trackers that is constantly updated.

The browser also ensures you’re browsing on an encrypted connection whenever possible. One of it’s most unique features is the ‘Fire’ button, which allows you to end your browsing session, close all your tabs, and delete all your cookies. When you search using DuckDuckGo’s app, you’ll automatically search via DuckDuckGo, a more private way of searching that won’t collect your data, use your browsing history to alter results, or send data to the sites you click on.

You can build your own “whitelist” via it’s fireproofing list in the settings menu (DuckDuckGo will also ask you if you want to fireproof a site after you log into it). By Fireproofing it, you’re allowing cookies to be stored for that site even if you press the fire button, so you can, for example, stay signed into an account after you close your browser session. You can also build a list of ‘unprotected sites’, which will have no tracking or security protection on them. These options are helpful if you, for example, visit a site you sign into often or know that a site won’t work properly with any tracking blocking on it.

DuckDuckGo also provides some enhanced features you can turn on, such as automatically clearing your session data after you close the app (by default this only happens if you press the ‘fire’ button) and preventing links from opening other apps.

Firefox for iOS 14

The Firefox for iOS browser also brings a strong tracking blocking in the form of its Enhanced Tracking Protection (which you can toggle on and off) and even lets you upgrade from Standard (the default) to “Strict” mode, which will block even more tracking content in ads, videos, and other elements that load on websites. 

Firefox does warn you that turning on strict mode may break some websites but will also load pages significantly faster (and with fewer privacy risks) so it’s a trade off. If you do find that a website is misbehaving, you can turn off the tracker blocking for any web page you’re on by clicking on the left-hand shield icon next to the address bar—this icon also shows you what’s blocked on different elements.

In your settings, you have a few more options to make your browsing even more private. You can change your default engine from Google to one of the other options Firefox provides (including DuckDuckGo), you can manually clear any data that has collected throughout your browsing (Firefox gives the options to specifically clear cookies, browsing history, cached files, tracking protection data, offline site data, and downloaded files).

You can open a tab in Firefox under Private Mode which will stop any cookies or website data from being collected by Firefox though bookmarks are still saved. Firefox also has a built in password storage feature that allows you to save your log-in details as you continue to browse the internet. You can also turn on a master password feature that requires you to enter a password before accessing your saved log-in details.

If you’ve used Firefox before, you can sign into your account and sync all your bookmarks and previously saved passwords as well.

Brave for iOS 14

(for a comprehensive overview of the Brave Browser, check out our overview here)

Brave is one of our favorite private browsers and has many attractive privacy features on by default for iOS14 users. Its tracker is known as ‘Shields’ and can be toggled on and off on a site-by-site basis. One significant difference is that Brave bundles an ad-blocker in its tracker blocker whereas other tracker blockers will block ads if they’re too egregious in their tracking. 

When you launch Brave for the first time, it asks you to choose your default engine (DuckDuckGo is available). As you browse, you can click on the Brave icon and see how many ads and trackers, scripts, and fingerprint methods have been blocked for that site. You also have manual controls over what you can block on the site you’re on (you can change defaults in the browser’s settings).

As a default, Brave blocks ads and trackers, pop-ups, phishing attempts, and ensures you’re connected to HTTPS whenever possible. Additional controls include scripts blocking, and fingerprinting protection (we recommend turning this one on).

Brave also has ‘save Logins’ on by default, which allows Brave to hold onto your log-in details so you can easily use them whenever you return to a site you need to log-on to. For more security, you have an option to turn a passcode (PIN) on that you need to enter before you can access your saved details. If you’ve used a password manager before, the user experience is similar.

Lastly, for a subscription fee, you can access Brave’s firewall and VPN, which protects your device and browsing even more by preventing unwanted network connections from reaching your device and encrypting your browsing data so even your mobile service provider can’t see your activity.

Change is Good

The move to enable default browser change is a good one. The default is always powerful and especially with browsers, which open every time you click a link. Allowing change encourages competition and allows users to take advantage of better products. And because browser sync features – moving bookmarks and other preferences between mobile and desktop is enabled – allowing you to change the default browser on iOS makes it much easier to change your default browser on MacOS too.

We’re glad to see Apple improving the privacy capabilities of Safari, but it’s great that people moving to Privacy Browsers like FireFox and Brave can now use them everywhere.

If you have a specific preference for either of these browsers, we wouldn’t stop you from using them but from a strictly privacy standpoint, we don’t see browsers getting better at blocking trackers than using Safari and one of the previously mentioned content blockers.

Photo by Bagus Hernawan on Unsplash

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