Apple just unveiled a raft of changes coming with the new macOS Big Sur later this year. Along with the visual redesign, the introduction of Control Center, and upgrades to Messages, the built-in Safari browser is getting new-and-improved privacy features to keep your data locked away.
You don’t have to wait for macOS Big Sur to drop to get a lot of these upcoming features though—both Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome have similar features, or they can with the help of a third-party extension. Here’s how you can get Firefox or Chrome up to par with Safari in macOS Big Sur today.
The Changes Coming to Safari
Privacy and data protection are already big priorities for Safari, but the version coming with macOS Big Sur is going to go even further to protect you from being tracked on the web. Some of the existing features are becoming more visible, while Safari is also embracing more extensions, with as much care for user safety as possible.
The browser already warns you against using passwords that are easily guessed or that you’ve used before (assuming they’re saved in Safari’s password locker), but the next version will also warn you if your email address, username, or password have been exposed in a data breach online—which would mean the need to take action and change your password would be even more urgent.
A new Privacy Report button is getting added to the toolbar—you can click on this to see exactly which trackers Safari is blocking in its ongoing attempts to stop advertisers and companies from following you around the web. Safari is particularly good at stopping “fingerprinting,” where various characteristics of your device (like screen resolution and operating system) are used to figure out who you are.
This same Privacy Report is going to be displayed on your browser start page, which should give you a better idea of which sites are most aggressively trying to track you, as well as showing off the work that Safari is busy doing in the background.
Safari in macOS Big Sur is also boosting support for extensions. (Safari already has extensions, but there aren’t many of them.) New developer tools will make it easier for add-ons to be ported from Chrome and Firefox, and Safari is going to give users a suite of controls to limit the browsing data and other information that extensions are able to get access to.
Adding Features to Chrome
Google already checks the passwords that it saves for you against a database of leaked credentials (besides warning about duplicates and passwords that could be easily guessed)—this is actually a Google account feature as well as a Chrome one. From the Chrome Settings panel, click Passwords then Check passwords to run an audit.
You can already get some tracking data about a site by clicking the icon to the left of a URL in the address bar in Chrome (the icon will be either a padlock or an info bubble). To get even more tracking data, and to selectively block it, Safari-style, you can use an extension like uBlock Origin: One click shows you how many trackers are active on a page and which have been stopped by uBlock Origin.
As well as stopping tracking across multiple sites, uBlock Origin also suppresses aggressive ads and protects against sites embedded with malware. A similar tool for Chrome that you can try is Disconnect—again, a single click blocks out tracking technologies, unwanted advertising, and social plug-ins (used by the likes of Facebook to see what you’re up to when you’re out and about across the web).
Individual trackers and sites as a whole can be granted permission to operate outside of the restrictions put in place by uBlock Origin and Disconnect, which can be used for sites with responsible advertising that you want to support. As an added bonus, all of this tracking and blocking should mean a faster browsing experience too.
Policing extension permissions isn’t quite as easy in Chrome as it sounds like it will be in the next Safari upgrade, but you do have options: Choose More Tools then Extensions from the Chrome menu, then click Details next to any extension. The next page shows you the permissions the add-on has and lets you set when and how the utility can read your browsing data—on all sites (everywhere you go, without question), on specific sites (only on sites you specifically list), or on click (so you’ll be asked for permission whenever access is required).
Adding Features to Firefox
Firefox already packs plenty of user privacy and anti-tracking technology into its interface, so you don’t need to do too much in the way of tweaking to get it up to par with the improvements that Apple just announced for Safari. It blocks more than 2,000 web trackers by default, for example, and warns you if your details are included in a data breach as part of its Firefox Monitor and Firefox Lockwise tools.
Click the little purple shield icon to the left of the address bar on any site to see what Firefox has blocked, including advertising trackers, social media plug-ins, attempts to fingerprint your device, and more. Firefox will intelligently allow some plug-ins to run if blocking them would seriously compromise the functionality of the site—it’s then your choice to continue using the site or find an alternative. To open a report on how these various measures are working over time, open the main Firefox menu and choose Privacy Protections.
If you open up Preferences then Privacy & Security from the Firefox menu, you can choose how these measures (called Enhanced Tracking Protection) are applied. Three different modes of operation are available—Standard, Strict, and Custom—and it’s possible to tailor the level of blocking for specific sites too. Enhanced Tracking Protection can be turned off for sites that you particularly trust, as well.
It’s fantastic having all of these features built right into Firefox, and it may be where Apple got some of its inspiration from for Safari, but plenty of third-party extensions are also available if you want to go even further. uBlock Origin and Disconnect are both available for Firefox as well as Chrome, for example, and both work in the same way: With one click on the browser toolbar you can see which adverts and trackers are being blocked.
To keep watch over which extensions are allowed to what in Firefox, choose Add-ons then Extensions from the program menu. Click the three dots next to any extension to see the data and browser features that it has access to—for the time being you can’t change this, though you can block add-ons from running in private browser windows. If an extension is using a permission that you’re not happy with, you’ll have to uninstall it.
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