Independent browser companies in the European Union are seeing a spike in users within the first month of new EU legislation coming into effect, according to reports by Reuters.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA), which came into play on March 7, 2024, with the aim of addressing unfair competition, means technology companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are now required to offer users greater choice of web browsers for their devices.

The new law enforces the big tech companies to make it easier for mobile users to select alternate web browsers to the default that’s in place, via a ‘choice screen’ featuring a longer list of competitor browsers.

Web browsers provide a gateway to our online experiences, whether that’s browsing the internet or accessing multimedia content, and traditionally these are offered by tech companies for free, in exchange for our data and tracking. 

Previously, tech companies such as Apple and Google loaded their devices with default settings that were their preferred services — and for the average user, changing the settings was a complicated process. (On Android devices, this default was Chrome; on iPhones, Safari; making these two the dominant browsers in the market.) 

Under the new EU rules, mobile software makers are now required to show a choice screen where users can select a browser, search engine and virtual assistant as they set up their phones.

Apple now presents up to 11 browsers in addition to Safari, with the choice screen being updated ongoing; every year for each of the 27 countries in the EU.  

Criticisms are already reported to be emerging however, around the pace of roll-out, the detail provided for the alternate browsers, and the process for the user. In iPhones, for example, users can see the choice screen only when they click Safari, and then are shown a list of browsers with no additional information, according to Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, CEO of Norway’s Vivaldi.

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New browsers on the scene

Several new players have entered the market in the last decade, having recognised opportunities to offer users greater privacy and protection, and even sustainability benefits. According to Reuters, a number of these companies have seen their user figures rise significantly following the new legislation.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the leading independents offering innovative solutions and alternatives.

Aloha

Aloha is a Cyprus-based browser that was founded in 2016, which markets itself as a privacy-focused alternative to the browsers owned by ‘big tech’. It has 10 million monthly average users, and earns money through paid subscriptions, rather than selling ads by tracking users. The company has reported an increase in EU users of 250% since the new regulations came into effect. 

Norway’s Vivaldi and Opera

Vivaldi emphasises privacy and security, customisation, and user-centric features, including built-in ad and tracker blockers, encrypted sync, and privacy-friendly search engine options. The browser also integrates tools like Notes, Bookmarks, and Web Panels to enhance productivity and browsing experience.

Opera, developed by Opera Software, a Norwegian company known for its innovative features and technologies, was first released back in 1995 but has undergone several iterations and redesigns over the years. Its key features include ‘Opera Turbo’ for data compression and faster browsing on slow connections and ‘Opera Flow’ for seamless synchronisation of browsing history and files between devices.

Ecosia: An ethical browsing alternative

Ecosia is a search engine and web browser developed by Ecosia GmbH, a German company focused on environmental sustainability and social impact. It was founded in 2009 with the mission of using search revenue to fund tree planting projects around the world.

It integrates with popular web browsers as a search engine extension, allowing users to search the web while contributing to reforestation efforts. Generating revenue through search ads, it uses a significant portion of its profits to finance tree planting initiatives, biodiversity conservation, and community development projects in partnership with local organisations.

Cliqz

Developed by German company Cliqz GmbH, Cliqz is a privacy-centric web browser that incorporates anti-tracking technology and built-in privacy features to protect users’ online privacy. It also includes features such as quick search, smart suggestions, and integrated anti-phishing protection.

US-based independent browsers

Brave 

Brave is a privacy-focused web browser developed by Brave Software, Inc., a company founded by Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript and former CEO of Mozilla Corporation. 

It was first released in 2016 with a focus on blocking ads and trackers while providing users with control over their data. Key features include ‘Brave Rewards’, which allows users to earn cryptocurrency tokens (BAT) by viewing privacy-respecting ads; ‘Brave Shields’ for blocking invasive ads and trackers, and ‘Brave Sync’ for encrypted synchronisation of bookmarks and browsing history across devices.

DuckDuckGo

While primarily known as a privacy-focused search engine, DuckDuckGo also offers a privacy-focused web browser for mobile devices. The DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser blocks third-party trackers, forces encrypted connections whenever possible, and provides a Privacy Grade rating for each website visited.

Ghost Browser

Ghost Browser is a privacy-focused web browser designed for multitasking and productivity. It offers features such as session management, tab isolation, and workspace organisation to help users manage multiple tasks and workflows efficiently while preserving their privacy.

Users can create and manage multiple sessions within a single browser window, with each session operating independently, with its own cookies, cache, and browsing history. This enables users to compartmentalise their browsing activities, and separate personal and work-related tasks.

Ghost Browser also includes a built-in proxy feature that enables users to browse the web anonymously and access geo-restricted content. The proxy feature allows users to route their internet traffic through different proxy servers located around the world, masking their IP addresses and enhancing privacy and anonymity online.

About the Digital Markets Act

The DMA is a legislative proposal by the European Union aimed at regulating digital platforms and addressing issues related to competition, market dominance, and unfair practices in the digital economy. It targets large online platforms designated as “gatekeepers,” which have significant market power and impact on the digital ecosystem, and seeks to promote innovation and consumer choice in digital markets.

Learn more about digital technology in the UK

Digital Britain: Connecting the Nation

Our lives rely heavily on a digital infrastructure, and it’s important that every part of the UK has access to high quality, secure digital infrastructure, connectivity, technology and the services to support people in all aspects of life. The sector is a cornerstone of the UK economy; in 2019, the digital sector contributed nearly £151 billion to the economy and constituted 9% of the national workforce.

ITN Business will be showcasing the organisations and individuals that are playing a part in the digital revolution and enabling connectivity, in the upcoming 2024 programme, Digital Britain: Connecting the Nation.

The news-style programme will be presented by journalist and ITV News presenter, Duncan Golestani, and will launch at Connected Britain, London, 11th-12th September 2024.