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Google makes money from advertising, and the current system for online advertising centers around collecting user information. That information can then be used to better target ads, resulting in higher profits. The difference with Google is just how much they can track their users, and the tracking is not limited to just their services. Millions of websites use Google services, from hosting to analytics and advertising. Every website which uses such services potentially feeds even more information to Google. Not that Google needs information from these websites, as their own browser (Google Chrome) is currently the most widely used browser.
Switching to Brave
I’ve been using Google services for as long as I can remember, and my main computer is a Chromebook. This makes it hard to use anything besides Google, but that’s what to expect when you buy one. But, I eventually wanted to switch to Brave which meant I needed to let Chrome OS go. Luckily, this didn’t require that I purchase an entirely new laptop; I simply needed to replace Chrome OS. I have personally done this on my previous Chromebook, but this time I didn’t want to completely wipe the internal storage. So, I purchased a 64GB SD card, enabled developer mode, and installed Gallium OS onto the SD card. Gallium OS is a Linux distribution (based on Ubuntu) that’s designed to run on Chromebooks which includes additional drivers and other optimizations not found in most other distributions. After the installation was complete, I was no longer locked into the Google ecosystem; I was finally free to leave whenever I wanted.
Before actually trying it out for myself, I heard quite a lot about it. Ironically, it was the news feed on the iOS Chrome app that displayed numerous articles about the Brave browser. 100% of what I heard was positive, so I was willing to give it a try once I was no longer locked into Chrome OS.
Brave is based off of Chromium, essentially the open source base Chrome is built off of. This means that all extensions built for Chrome should work flawlessly on Brave, although that actually isn’t much of a problem for most people. Popular extensions, like LastPass, have versions for pretty much all browsers anyways, but a few of the extensions I use are exclusive to Chrome, like Google Drive offline and Office Editing For Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
Brave’s UI, while not an exact clone of Chrome’s, was easy enough to get used to. As previously mentioned, I was able to successfully install all of my extensions, and all of my bookmarks and browsing history were successfully imported. For the most part, browsing with Brave is just like browsing with any other web browser. But, what’s special about Brave is its anti-tracking features. There’s essentially a built in ad blocker that decreases load times, cleans up websites, and protects against trackers. The home page keeps track of how many ads were blocked along with how much time was saved by not loading them. After just a few weeks of use, it reports that it saved me 18 minutes of loading time. That sounds like a lot, but considering I spent a lot of that time at a Starbucks with particularly slow Wi-Fi, it sounds believable enough. Brave also reports having blocked over 20,000 ads and just under 300 web trackers.
Brave has a unique approach to ads. Instead of cluttering up websites you visit, Brave pays you for optionally clicking on offers. The only downside is that you aren’t paid in US dollars, but in BAT, a cryptocurrency. You can also enable a feature which automatically distributes the BAT you earn with website owners, allowing them to be sustainable without resorting to displaying ads.
Using Brave on Chrome OS
Despite now using Gallium OS as my main distribution, I still keep Chrome OS up to date in case I ever need to use it. Surprisingly, it is possible to use the Android version of Brave on Chrome OS, and it performs well enough. Although it doesn’t function as well as the desktop version (and completely lacks extension support like most mobile browsers), I guess it can get the job done if you’re on a Chromebook and really don’t want to use Chrome.
Using Brave was fun and all, but I eventually switched back to Chrome.
One of my reasons for switching back has to do with how well the syncing works. While Brave supports syncing your bookmarks and passwords across devices, it’s not as easy and as seamless as it is with Chrome. You don’t create an account with Brave and simply sign in to new devices; you’re given a code to share with new devices you want to sync with. While I guess this is better for privacy as you don’t even need to give Brave your email address, it does have some obvious downsides. For one, extensions aren’t synced, and you need to manually install your extensions on each new device. Additionally, if you lose all devices that are syncing with each other, you’ll need to start from scratch. While this isn’t a problem if you have a few devices, if you forget your iPhone password and water damage your laptop or something like that, you’ll lose everything that was being synced.
With Chrome, everything is stored in the cloud. All of your devices can be destroyed, and as soon as you log in to a new device, everything will sync as if nothing happened. Extensions will sync, and many will even sync settings across devices. Bookmark changes are near instant, and you can even view tabs open on other devices.
I Use Google Anyways
Although I do care about my privacy, I use Google services and have no intent of stopping any time soon. They’re free, convenient, easy to use, and reliable. Google rarely goes down, and it’s nice to know even if I’m on the other side of the world without my laptop, I can log in to my Google account and start right where I left off.
If Google wants to track me, they’ll do that regardless of what browser I use. Even without the information Chrome sends them, they’ll still have access to all of my documents on Google Drive, everything I do on Google Search, and everything I watch on YouTube. That’s not to mention all of the websites that use Google services. Sure, using Chrome probably gives them access to a bit more information than they would otherwise collect, but I think the most important information they collect about me doesn’t come from Chrome.
There’s A Balance
Caring about your privacy doesn’t need to mean ditching Chrome. You can install one of the many ad blockers that also block trackers, and disable many of the features that send information to Google in Chrome. If you don’t rely on Google services that heavily, and all of the platforms you use support Brave, then by all means make the switch. But, I prefer to have the few extra platforms Chrome supports over using a browser that respects my privacy a bit more.