This story is part of 12 Days of Tips, helping you make the most of your tech, home and health during the holiday season.
Your browser's default settings still may not be as robust as you'd like in fighting pervasive ad industry trackers. One of the best and easiest ways to start is by adjusting some of your browser settings.
Incidents like Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 elevated privacy protection on Silicon Valley's priority list by revealing how companies compile reams of data as you traverse the internet. Their goal? To build a richly detailed user profile so they can target you with more tailored, clickable and thus profitable advertisements.
Apple and Google are in a war for the web , with Google pushing aggressively for an interactive web to rival native apps and Apple moving more slowly -- partly out of concern new features will worsen security and be annoying to use. Privacy adds another dimension to the competition and to your browser decision.
Apple has made privacy a top priority in all of its products, including its Safari browser. For the Brave browser, privacy is a core goal, and Mozilla and Microsoft are touting privacy as a way to differentiate their browsers from Google Chrome. But despite Google's reliance on ad revenue, Chrome engineers are working on rolling out a new privacy-preserving ad-targeting technology called Topics, which the tech giant is testing as a replacement to its failed FLOC project.
One quick way to give yourself a privacy boost across all of the browsers listed here is by changing the default search engine. For instance, try the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo. Although its search results may not be quite as useful or deep as Google's, DuckDuckGo is still pretty close -- and it's long been favored by the privacy-minded for its refusal to track user searches.
Other universal options that can boost your privacy include disabling your browser's location tracking and search engine autocomplete features, turning off password autofills and regularly deleting your browsing history. If that's not enough and you want to take your privacy to the next level, consider trying one of the virtual private networks CNET has reviewed that work with all browsers. (You can also check out our roundups of browser-based VPNs to try as well as the best VPNs for Windows.)
In the meantime, though, here are some simple settings you can change in your browser to help keep a good portion of advertising trackers off your trail.
Chrome browser privacy settings to change
The world's most popular browser is also generally thought to be one of the least private when used straight out of the box. On the plus side, however, Chrome's flexible and open-source underpinnings have allowed independent developers to release a slew of privacy-focused extensions to shake off trackers.
In the Chrome Web Store, click Extensions on the left and type the name of the extension you're looking for into the search bar. Once you find the correct extension in the search results, click Add to Chrome. A dialog will pop up explaining which permissions the extension will have for your browser. Click Add extension to bring the extension into your browser.
If you change your mind, you can manage or remove your extensions by opening Chrome and clicking the three-dot More menu on the right. Then select More Tools and then Extensions. From here, you'll also be able to see more about the extension by clicking Details.
Here are four extensions to look at as you get started: Cookie Autodelete, uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere.
If you're on Android, sorry: extensions don't work. So you'll have to switch browsers altogether to something like DuckDuckGo's app.
In the same three-dot menu in Chrome, you can also block third-party cookies by selecting Settings, then scrolling down to the Privacy and security section and clicking Cookies and other site data. From here, select Block third-party cookies.
There are several other settings to disable in the Privacy and security menu. Here are a few more.
Clear browsing data > Advanced > Select an option under Time range and hit Clear data.
Security > Under Safe Browsing, select Standard protection > toggle off Help improve security on the web for everyone.
Security > Under Advanced, toggle on Always use secure connections
But it's not that simple. By going back to the Settings menu -- or accessing it directly by typing chrome://settings into your address bar -- you'll see an entire list of options on the left, and each of them have privacy-related options to enable or disable. Listing them all would require an article of its own, but here are a few key settings to get you started.
Settings > You and Google > Sync and Google services > toggle on Allow Chrome sign-in. This tells Chrome not to associate your browser activities with your account until you've signed into your Google account. While you're in this screen, toggle off the following:
- Autocomplete searches and URLs
- Help improve Chrome's features and performance
- Make searches and browsing better
For core privacy, you should turn off all functions under Settings > Autofill. If you're looking to maintain the convenience of logging into familiar sites, you shouldn't let Chrome keep your passwords. Instead, choose a password manager like Bitwarden and install its extension in Chrome.
Chrome is also a browser that can access data about what you do outside of it. If you're a MacOS user, you can restrain some of that data-grabbing by doing two things. First, you can disable IPv6. Then, you can select System Preference under your Apple menu, followed by Security & Privacy.
In this window, click the lock icon in the bottom to begin making changes. Then go through each of the items one at a time on the left-side pane. Every time you select an item and see Chrome among the list of apps appearing in the right-side pane, click Chrome to highlight it and then click the minus-sign icon beneath the pane on the right side to remove Chrome from the list. This is also a great place to see the overwhelming amount of personal data other apps may have access to.
Don't forget to click the lock icon again to save your choices before exiting the Security & Privacy window.
Read more: Google Chrome Privacy Isn't the Best. These Browser Extensions Will Help
Safari browser privacy settings to change
By default, Safari turns on its proprietary Intelligent Tracking Prevention tool to keep you a step ahead of privacy pests. Even so, the tool hasn't always worked smoothly since its 2017 debut. Google researchers spotted how Intelligent Tracking Prevention itself could be used to track users, though Apple buttoned down the problem.
Safari is able to tell you which ad trackers are running on the website you're visiting and give you a 30-day report of the known trackers it's identified while you were browsing. It'll also tell you which websites those trackers came from.
To check that blocking is on, open Safari and click Preferences, then Privacy. The box beside Prevent cross-site tracking should be checked. While you're there, you can also manually delete your cookies. Click Manage Website Data to see which sites have left their trackers and cookies hanging out in your browser. Click Remove next to any of the individual trackers you're ready to get rid of, or just nuke the whole list by clicking Remove All at the bottom of your screen.
Cookies can be helpful, not just invasive, but for stronger privacy you can block them altogether -- both first-party cookies from the website publisher and third-party cookies from others like advertisers. To do so, check the box beside Block all cookies.
You can also enable the Hide IP address from trackers function from the Privacy menu to keep your IP address hidden from known online trackers. And if you have an iCloud Plus account, you can use Private Relay to hide your IP address from trackers as well as websites.
If you're still looking for another layer of privacy, you can also install helpful extensions from the App Store like AdBlock Plus or Ghostery Lite for Safari.
Read more: Safari Joins Browsers That Tell You Who's Trying to Track You
Edge browser privacy settings to change
Microsoft's Edge browser includes some simplified privacy and tracker-blocking options on its Tracker prevention screen. Within Edge, select the three-dot menu icon in the top-right corner and select Settings. From the menu that then appears on the left, select Privacy and services.
You'll be offered three settings to choose from: Basic, Balanced and Strict. By default, Edge uses the Balanced setting, which blocks trackers from sites you haven't visited while still being lenient enough to save most sites from some of the loading problems that may come with tighter security. Likewise, Edge's Strict setting may interfere with how some sites behave, but will block the greatest number of trackers. Even the Basic setting will still block trackers used for crypto mining and fingerprinting.
Depending on your settings, Edge may send your browsing history and diagnostic data to Microsoft. If you want to prevent that from happening, you can go to Privacy, search, and services from the Settings menu and disable Help improve Microsoft products by sending optional diagnostic data about how you use the browser, websites you visit, and crash reports.
Read more: Microsoft Edge Privacy Settings to Change Right Away
Firefox browser privacy settings to change
Firefox's default privacy settings are more protective than those of Chrome and Edge, and the browser has more privacy options under the hood, too.
From inside Firefox's main menu -- or from inside the three-lined menu on the right side of the toolbar -- select Settings. Once the Settings window opens, click Privacy & Security. From here, you'll be able to choose between three options: Standard, Strict and Custom. Standard, the default Firefox setting, blocks trackers in private windows, third-party tracking cookies and crypto miners. The Strict setting may break a few websites, but it blocks everything blocked in Standard mode, plus fingerprints and trackers in all windows. Custom is worth exploring for those who want to fine-tune how trackers are being blocked.
To apply your new tracking settings after you've selected your level of privacy, click the Reload All Tabs button that appears.
From the Privacy & Security menu, you can also tell Firefox to send a "Do Not Track" signal to websites to let them know you don't want to be tracked. You can set this to Always or Only when Firefox is set to block known trackers.
Read more: With Firefox, Stop Leaking Your Data Across the Internet
Brave browser privacy settings to change
When it comes to anti-tracking tools, Safari's latest privacy updates are still short of most of those found in the Brave browser . By default, Brave blocks all ads, trackers, third-party cookies and fingerprinters while still achieving blazing speeds . Brave also offers a built-in Tor private browsing mode, a heavy-duty tracker-blocking option, and added a built-in VPN for iOS users.
Inside Brave's main menu, select Settings and then select Shields to see a list of things you can block, like trackers, ads, scripts and fingerprinting. You can set the Trackers and ads blocking to Standard or Aggressive, and you can set the Block fingerprinting function to Standard or Strict. You'll also be able to block login buttons and embedded content from Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn from the Social media blocking tab in your Settings menu. For even more protection and privacy fine-tuning, explore the Privacy and security menu.
For more, check out the best password managers of 2022 and our FAQ on the Tor browser.