iOS Browser Privacy Compared: Safari vs Firefox vs Brave vs iCab

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Although many iOS browsers claim they can protect your privacy from hackers, not all are equal. We tested the four most well-known options and determined which made it to the top.

iOS browsers have advanced a lot since the days of iPad and iPhone. Steve Jobs, from the beginning, marketed the iPad as the best option for content consumption (including web surfing) than either the iPhone, iPad, or both. But the fact was not as easy to see.

Today’s iOS browsers are largely able to fulfill that promise. The vast majority of web browsers, particularly on iPad, let users access the full version of sites rather than mobile-only options. iCab and others offer customizations, capabilities, and features that can be compared to their desktop counterparts. Many offer privacy-protecting features, such as blocking advertisements and stopping websites tracking you.

We evaluated four options against EFF’s Track Your Tracks tool. Cover Your Tracks shows you how trackers can see your browser. Most importantly it also shows how effective anti-tracking technology is.

Brave

Brave prides itself on being a privacy-focused browser. Brave says its browser provides “better privacy per default than Firefox.”

Brave is a browser that offers many features you would expect. One of Brave’s key strengths, however, is its innovative approach to rewarding content creators. Brave has created its own cryptocurrency that users can use to make a profit by just looking at Brave approved ads. Basic Attention Token or BAT can then be used in reward programs for creators.

Brave provides basic syncing but isn’t as effective as some of the browsers. It is possible to securely connect devices and keep bookmarks, settings and other information synced.

It is impossible to import bookmarks in other browsers for those using an iPad-only work flow, as there are no options. You will need access to an iPad version to do so. This allows you to import bookmarks into another browser from the desktop and then sync them with your mobile version.

Brave offers many outstanding privacy features. It is ad blocker and anti-tracking with good results. Brave also includes an integrated VPN, for a small monthly fee. This adds an extra level of protection. However, does the product live up? Are you sure it is the most secure browser outside of the box? Can it surpass Firefox?

The EFF Cover Your Tracks tests are here to show you how the EFF compares it.

Brave Results
Brave Results

iCab

iCab can be described as one of, if not THE most fully-featured iOS browsers. iCab features user profiles, kiosk mode. You can also sync with iCloud. Dropbox. Firefox Sync. There’s even full-screen mode.

You can set the browser agent. This is one of the best features. This can be especially helpful for websites searching for Chrome or Edge. It doesn’t matter what the desktop equivalents are using, iPad browsers always use Apple WebKit to power Safari. It is possible to fool multiple websites simply by changing the user agent.

iCab comes with hundreds of filters built in to prevent ads and trackers. It also allows you to make and modify your own content filters.

So what did iCab have to do with the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks campaign?

iCab Results - Standard
iCab Results - Standard

iCab’s strong features are a boon for privacy. It makes it very easy and completely free to increase its privacy. iCab browser is the only one to allow third-party privacy, adblocking, filtering lists and even those which are used as the base of content blockers.

You can simply go to Settings> Tools > Filters. Then click the + button and choose EasyList Filters. iCab can take you to EasyList Filters. EasyPrivacy: Click on “Add it To Your Adblocker.” The EasyPrivacy listing will then be seamlessly integrated into iCab.

iCab Filter Import
iCab Filter Import

How will this upgrade affect iCab

iCab Results - EasyPrivacy
iCab Results - EasyPrivacy

Safari

Safari is Apple’s de facto standard, shipped with every iPhone/iPad, along with every Mac. Safari uses WebKit, an open-source web browser Apple has developed. This full-featured browser offers privacy as well as a variety of features.

Safari comes with cross-site monitoring prevention by default and also blocks popups. Safari is Apple’s Web browser. As such, Safari has some of the most extensive syncing options. Safari can keep bookmarks open, history, passwords saved, and tabs open in sync between devices.

It was compared to the Cover Your Tracks score.

Safari Results - Standard
Safari Results - Standard

We did the same test after installing AdGuard, which blocks all AdGuard-related content. We were able to see a marked improvement in our performance.

Safari Results - Adguard
Safari Results - Adguard

Firefox

Firefox is the best-known and most widely used alternative browser. Mozilla Firefox, which has its roots in the Netscape Navigator original, has a rich history. Google Chrome has replaced it however.

Firefox Sync offers the best sync solution, aside from Safari. Register to create an account and all data, such as bookmarks, history, saved passwords, is securely synced across devices.

Firefox, like Brave aims to be a privacy-focused browser which protects its user. Firefox offers its Enhanced tracking protection feature. It comes in both standard and strict settings.

Firefox warns against enabling Strict Protect to break certain websites or prevent their correct functioning. This has never been seen in any of the extensive tests we’ve done.

Firefox: How do they measure up? As with Safari, Firefox has been tested two times, both with Standard and Strict Enhanced tracking protection.

Standard:

Firefox Results - Standard
Firefox Results - Standard

You can’t go wrong with this:

Firefox Results - Strict
Firefox Results - Strict

As with AdGuard, Firefox offers a significantly higher level of protection when you enable the Strict option for Enhanced tracking Protection.

Caveats

A few things to remember when you take any type of test.

We only tested iCab using the integrated filters and didn’t modify any filters. It would likely have provided more protection but this is not something most people are skilled at. Finding the trackers that you want to block is a difficult task. Regular expressions are necessary to make it happen.

We took advantage of iCab’s ability to add prepackaged filters. This was a simple step for everyone, even those with advanced technical skills, which significantly increased the privacy available.

Brave’s privacy settings were not available to us, so we did not test them again. Other than that, what you see and get is exactly what you get.

Instead, Safari was tested two times, and AdGuard was added to our second test. Apple customers will be familiar with this process and feel comfortable using it.

Firefox, too, was tested two times. The only thing that could be done to make Firefox more secure was changing one setting.

Noting that no browser has been tested for Do Not Track policy compliance, Cover Your Tracks doesn’t consider this to be as crucial. However, Do Not Track was never popularized in the industry. This is due to websites not being required to honour a browser’s request and sometimes blatantly disregarding it. Some websites have stopped sending headers altogether.

Ranking

Firefox: First place

Firefox, the browser that offers the highest level of protection without having to install any add-ons, was the clear winner. You can change one setting in the app to increase your protection. Safari has more features that make it easier.

2nd Place: Ties between Safari and iCab

Safari and iCab ranked second.

Safari’s default privacy level is similar to Brave’s or iCab’s by default. But, one free addon can bring Safari up to the same level that Firefox on Strict. iCloud syncing is also available to the browser, which provides Apple’s typical level of integration and ease.

iCab took second place. The privacy of iCab isn’t as good as Firefox by default. However, it can be set up with the EasyPrivacy filters and Firefox’s Strict Protection. Additionally, the powerful features of iCab browser are unlike any other browser available on iOS/iPadOS. iCab has many powerful features that make it a must-have app for every iPhone or iPad.

Brave wins third place

Brave ranks third by a significant margin. Brave comes in third place if you aren’t already using Brave for desktop and/or have Brave’s BAT. There’s nothing to be said about Brave on iOS/iPadOS. Contrary its claims, the browser isn’t more secure than Firefox. It’s also not as convenient and has none of the power features that iCab offers. Without the desktop browser, the browser has poor sync capabilities, and it can’t import bookmarks. Brave being the most recent browser, these are issues likely to be fixed.