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This Google Chrome rival is the browser to use if you're worried about online privacy. What to know

The Brave browser focuses on stopping websites from tracking you, and is now offering its own private search engine, too.

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Do you really know who's watching?

Angela Lang/CNET

You don't want to be leaking your private information as you browse the web. The most popular browsers -- from Chrome and Safari to Firefox -- can help you keep your data away from prying eyes. But securing those web browsers may require setting up a few security-minded extensions or fiddling with privacy settings in preferences. But one browser upstart is taking the setup and tweaking out of the process and offering a browser -- now with its own privacy-focused search engine -- that goes all-in on guarding you and your information. 

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Out of the box, Brave browser blocks trackers and third-party cookies that monitor your activity as you travel across the web. But the browser also gives you control over what you do and don't want to be blocked -- from ads and cookies to Facebook and Google login buttons.

The maker of the unusual Brave browser said it understands that its strict blocking policy has a consequence for websites: You don't see ads that help support the creation of website content. To compensate content creators, Brave takes a clever approach that allows you to make anonymous contributions to websites you visit. Publishers then receive the contributions in the form of cryptocurrencies once they opt into the system. Or, you can allow ads and tracking in Brave's settings if you can't be bothered. But the cost of being tracked is losing control of your privacy.

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Available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, the Brave browser is built on the same foundation as Chrome, which means Brave can use Chrome extensions. In fact, when you click "Find extensions and themes" in Brave's settings, you are taken to the Chrome Web Store to find extensions and themes for the browser.

And just because Brave is built on a Google-developed framework doesn't mean you're restricted to using Google as your default search engine. Brave has released a public beta version of its own privacy-focused search engine, designed to go head-to-head with Google, called Brave Search, which will become the default search engine in the Brave browser later this year. You can try out the Brave Search beta now on your desktop. 

In terms of Brave Browser for mobile, you may have to wait until Brave Search is enabled by default through another Brave Browser update. Currently, there is no option to manually add Brave Search. You can still change your default search engine by opening Brave on mobile, and tapping the three-dot icon on the right of the URL bar. When you tap Settings, your first option will be to change your default search engine.

Here's how to set up Brave and make contributions to websites and content creators.

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For desktop and mobile, Brave blocks trackers.

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Control what Brave blocks

By default, Brave blocks all ads, trackers, third-party cookies (which track you across the web via social buttons on a webpage) and third-party fingerprinters (that track you by creating a unique profile of you using your browser and computer settings). You can, however, adjust how rigid Brave approaches protection.

1. From the Brave menu, click Preferences.

2. In the Settings panel on the left, taps Shields.

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Brett Pearce/CNET

3. Via the privacy options to the right, select the level of protection you want.

4. In the Settings panel again, tap Social media blocking to control whether to allow Google and Facebook login buttons, embedded Twitter tweets and LinkedIn embedded posts.

5. If you want finer control, under Additional Settings over on the left, tap Privacy and security.

6. Here, you can adjust control the services the Brave browser uses, such as a predictive service to help autocomplete searches and URLs.

7. To try out the privacy-focused Brave Search, you can right click on your URL bar and select Manage Search Engines. From the list labelled Other search engines, select Brave Search by tapping the three-dot icon on the right and clicking Make default.

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In the browser preferences, you can mind your privacy settings.

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Contribute to websites and content creators

Brave's restrictive approach to ads comes at a cost: Websites don't earn money for their work. As a way to contribute to websites you visit without being tracked, Brave developed Brave Rewards, a program that lets you earn tokens by watching Brave-selected ads which then automatically contributes the revenue in the form of cryptocurrency to websites you visit. Here's how to join the rewards program.

1. Tap the three-parallel-line hamburger menu over on the right of the toolbar and tap Brave Rewards.

2. Tap Yes, I'm In.

3. On the Brave Rewards page, you can set up and adjust your participation in the revenue program:

  • For ads, you can adjust how many ads to view per hour.
  • For auto-contributions, you can control how much to contribute each month and set a minimum threshold for time spent on a page before the site is rewarded with a contribution. 

4. In addition to earning tokens through your web activities, you can add your own cryptocurrency to your account to contribute to sites.

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Set up rewards.

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For more on browsing, see our review of Brave and how Firefox can show you who's tracking you.