Opening Your Web Browser For The Very First Time: Who Tracks You The Most?

Sep 5, 2019
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Recently, a Brave Browser developer made quite a few experiments with web browsers just to see what happens behind the scenes, when you open them for the very first time. He shared his results on Twitter with screenshots and all explanations needed for the average tech guy to understand how a freshly-installed web browser tracks you (or not) when you first access it.

That’s right, no prior cache, history or cookies: just straight on vanilla.

Reading The Results

Before showing you the actual results, it is important to know how a browser acts.

When you open any web browser – in fact when you open all sorts of computer software – it will most likely make some ‘calls.’ For example, a piece of software could make a call to a certain function or sub-program to execute a specific task. In other words, it asks for the help of some ‘third-parties’ on how to properly function.

Going back to the web browsing ecosystem, if you read Johnathan Sampson’s – the Brave Browser developer – Tweetstorms, you will often read this term ‘call.’ It just simply means the browser asks for some outside help – somewhere on the Internet – on how to run as the user expects it to run. Some will ask for images or scripts to download so you can enjoy the user-friendly interface. All will ask the server to verify if the version is the latest one or an update is needed. Others, however, will create clients ID, parse your immediately available information (such as operating system, language you are using, etc.) to a file & send it to a central server.

Since the user is opening the browser for the very first time, there should be a limited number of generic calls. The results though vary from one browser to another.

‘Calling’ Nightmares: Opera & Firefox Browsers

According to Sampson, Mozilla Firefox is the most ‘active’ upon installation. Moreover, Firefox is the only one who starts gathering data from you immediately.

The developer found dozens upon dozens of calls and requests that loaded around 16 MB of data.

Remember, this is a fresh installation of Firefox with no cache, history, or web cookies for that matter. As expected, most are Mozilla-servers related. After just a few minutes, Firefox sent 37,097 bytes of user information to the central servers, including specific info regarding the system’s hardware & software.

As a comparison, Opera doesn’t load that much data, yet has some very ‘odd’ calls sent to unexpected third parties, most of them merchants like Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Ali Express, or Overstock. Calls sent to their own servers are obvious while calls sent to Google or Facebook are common among web browsers:

With Google Chrome, 32 requests were made and over 7 MB of data was downloaded, all to their central servers and most having to do with Google services like Google Account, Drive and Chrome’s Web Apps.

Microsoft’s own browser, the revamped Edge triggered over 130 calls to nearly 50 links related to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn & more.

The Lightweight Browser: Good Ol’ Lynx

On the other side of the spectrum, Brave Browser had 23 total calls all of which end up referring to its own servers. Brave is the only reviewed web client that tries to proxy any request whenever possible, basically trying to hide user’s details.

Lightweight web version of Opera, Vivaldi is another good example of how a web browser should run for the very first time: only 30+ calls and most were linked to the Vivaldi internal servers.

The clear winner though if you really care about what information you give away to the big tech companies is Lynx, a customizable minimalistic text-based browser with an active development that started way back in 1992. What happens when you first open Lynx client?

Not even Google can force its way into your life with Lynx. Take that, other browsers!

Here are the links to all Jonathan Sampson’s fresh-installed web browser reviews:

What browser do you use? How did it fare in the experiment Sampson conducted? Tell us about it more in the comment section below!

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