Browser-Based VPNs: 3 to Try if You Want to Improve Online Privacy

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A VPN, or virtual private network, is a good way to give you an added level of security, helping to protect your online information and keep your browsing habits under wraps. There’s no question that a standalone VPN will offer you the best overall protection, but they can also be expensive. If you’re simply looking for something basic that will add an extra layer of web security, you might want to consider using a browser-based VPN. Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Brave all offer browser-based VPN options that are designed to hide your IP without bogging down your internet speeds — and they’re all easier to use than standalone options. 

Here’s all you need to know about the best browser VPN options available today and what they offer. 

Browser VPNs vs. standalone VPNs

There are essentially three different kinds of VPNs you can opt for, and each offers a different layer of protection and security. 

First, there are router VPNs, which funnel all of the internet activity of everything connected to your home Wi-Fi network into their servers to keep you anonymous. Secondly, there are VPN apps for your computer or mobile device — a VPN app, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN, will protect your anonymity only on the device you’ve put it on.

And finally, there are browser-based proxy services and VPNs. Sometimes browser companies inaccurately call their proxy services a virtual private network to make them sound more secure, but I’ve noted which are which below. Where desktop and mobile VPNs protect the anonymity of your whole device — all internet activity in your browsers, email clients and file-sharing apps — browser-based proxies just anonymize what happens in your web browser. They’re less private and less secure, but far faster. 

Whether you opt for a browser-based VPN or not, we still recommend tweaking your browser’s settings to take advantage of any current privacy options you’ve already got onboard. 

Brave 


Illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Rather than being just a simple proxy service, Brave’s built-in browser VPN for iPhone and iPad delivers a full encryption experience. Strong security often comes at the expense of speed, but not so when paired with Brave Browser’s lightning speeds. 

The browser feature, called Brave Firewall + VPN, is actually a combination of its VPN and its Brave Firewall protection software which blocks trackers and malicious websites more thoroughly than most of its competitors. And unlike most other browser-based VPNs, Brave Firewall + VPN offers full device encryption. It runs $10 per month or $100 per year, and a single subscription can be used on up to five devices.  

Firefox


Mozilla

Mozilla’s VPN experience has been a bit confusing. First, its standalone VPN was known as Firefox Private Network, and then Firefox VPN. Then Mozilla launched an add-on, changed the standalone’s name to Mozilla VPN, and called the add-on Firefox Private Network. Phew. 

But never mind the early confusion. The Firefox Private Network add-on is a proxy service that’s worth checking out if you want a light layer of privacy while browsing on public Wi-Fi. It doesn’t offer full-device encryption the way the standalone Mozilla VPN does, but it doesn’t drag your speeds down or hamper your browsing experience as much either. It’s also easy to use: The single, on-off switch makes it a breeze to operate. 

And, yes, it’s completely free of charge. While we usually would never recommend using a free VPN, again, this isn’t really a true VPN: It’s a proxy service that offers extra privacy, not the full VPN suite of tools. If you want to really cover your tracks by upgrading to a full VPN, you should always avoid free VPNs and instead use a paid VPN service with a proven privacy track record (check out our favorite VPNs here). 

Chrome


Angela Lang/CNET

Google Chrome doesn’t have a native VPN built into it. Instead, you’ll need to use a VPN browser extension from your preferred VPN to get the same effect. 

I recommend using the Chrome VPN extension from our Editors’ Choice VPN service, ExpressVPN
. You can also use it on Firefox, Edge, Brave and Vivaldi browsers. You’ll still need to have downloaded the full ExpressVPN app, but the lightweight browser extension allows you to streamline your VPN use to just geolocation changes and offers a couple other core privacy features. 

In October of 2020, Google launched its own standalone VPN as part of its $100 annual bundle package for Google One subscribers with a 2TB account. If you’re already a Google One user and simply looking for an extra layer of protection while using free public Wi-Fi, this VPN could be a great fit. 

If you’re interested in keeping your browsing, internet traffic and usage data private from corporations and government entities, however, I’d urge you to consider carefully Google’s long, storied history of sharing and collecting user data before you use any of its products. 

For more on VPNs, check out our picks for the best cheap VPNs, the fastest VPN and how to choose the right VPN provider for working from home

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