The Tor Project, which is responsible for the anonymous network and browser, is assisting with the introduction of a browser that focuses on privacy and is designed to connect to a virtual private network (VPN) rather than a decentralized onion network. It’s called the Mullvad browser, after the Mullvad VPN firm that it collaborated with on the project, and it’s available for Windows, Mac, or Linux. The browser is named after the Mullvad VPN company that it’s partnered with on the project.
The primary objective of the Mullvad web browser is to make it more difficult for various businesses, including marketers, to monitor your movements around the internet. In order to accomplish this, it works to decrease the “fingerprint” of your browser, which is a word that refers to all of the metadata that websites can collect in order to uniquely identify your device. Your digital fingerprint can be made up of anything from basic information, such as the web browser and operating system that you are using, to more in-depth details, such as the fonts and extensions that you have installed on your computer and the input and output devices that are accessible to your browser.
When all of these criteria are considered, it may be possible to easily identify you based solely on your fingerprint, without the need for any additional tracking technology such as cookies or similar programs. There are a number of tools available to determine the level of finger-printability of your browser; however, the one provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the one I would recommend using because it does a decent job of explaining the findings.
By default, the Mullvad browser will disguise such metadata, making it more difficult for websites to obtain a fingerprint of the user. It also prevents third parties from installing cookies and trackers on your computer, and it comes with a few plugins that are already installed to minimize your digital footprint even further. (Some privacy-focused browsers like Brave say they stop fingerprinting but come with a lot of extensions that could be identified if a website is able to get around their safeguards.) [T]here are a lot of extensions that might be identified if a website is able to get around their precautions.
It is possible to set a browser like Firefox, on which the Mullvad browser (and the Tor Browser) is built, to have protections that are analogous to those offered by Tor. To do so, however, would take at least some amount of technical know-how, as you would need to know which switches to flip and be confident that you had caught everything.
You only need to launch Mullvad for it to do all of that for you; from that point on, you can relax in the knowledge that it will be difficult to keep tabs on your online activities. According to Isabela Fernandes, executive director of The Tor Project, who was quoted in a press release, “Developing this browser with Mullvad is about providing people with more privacy options for everyday browsing and to challenge the current business model of exploiting people’s behavioral data.”
To be clear, these precautions are less beneficial if you are trying to hide from tracking by government agencies and law enforcement agencies such as the NSA and the FBI, as well as parties working for governments in other parts of the world. It is possible for anyone with sufficient resources to track the activity on the internet using methods that go well beyond tracking pixels and cookies placed by third parties.
On the other hand, the vast majority of users do not consider it necessary to have that level of protection, and the fact of the matter is that obtaining it is not particularly straightforward. The basic Tor Browser may not be the most user-friendly software, despite all of the privacy benefits it offers. The most significant drawback is that it can be as sluggish as molasses, and websites that were designed for typical web traffic may not always function properly when used with it. They are functions of how it keeps you safe, which are encrypting your traffic and bouncing it all over the world. Yet, if all you’re trying to do is avoid creepy advertisements, then those functions may be utterly unnecessary and overdone.
According to Pavel Zoneff, a spokesperson for The Tor Project, the Mullvad browser is quite comparable to the Tor Browser; the only difference is that it connects to the internet using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) rather than the Tor network. (It does not need to be Mullvad’s VPN either; if you use another provider that you trust or if you have created your own VPN, you are free to utilize either of those options.) The Mullvad browser does not give the censorship circumvent user experience that the Tor browser delivers. Moreover, it does not provide access to onion sites or services, “circuit isolation,” or “integration with new-identity.” But once more, if you have no idea what any of those things are, you shouldn’t let it worry you too much.
There is a good chance that the Mullvad browser will continue to have some peculiarities in its usability that you won’t find in Chrome or any other mainstream browser. If you consistently utilize a website’s cookie-cleaning option, it is possible that you may be required to sign in to its services more frequently. This is because some websites become irritated by particular privacy settings and stop functioning effectively as a result. Yet, if you are prepared to make those trade-offs in exchange for the possibility of being more private on the internet, then it may be a good place to start. However, it is important to keep in mind that in order to hide in a crowd, there needs to be a throng present. If you are the only person using the Mullvad browser, it may be rather simple to obtain your fingerprint. But, even if only a portion of your fingerprint is collected, it may still be possible to identify you if everyone else has a fingerprint.