Software

4 tips that make browsing the web from your mobile device even easier

New apps from DuckDuckGo and Cake offer useful ways to search, navigate, and protect your privacy as you browse the mobile web on Android and iOS devices.

Photo of hand holding iPhone displaying DuckDuckGo app (left) and hand holding Android phone displaying Cake Browser app (right)
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Most mobile browsers deliver a standard experience. Pick up your smartphone, open a browser, and tap search terms or a web address. Your browser will either load the site you requested or show you a list of search results. Browsing works similarly on Android and iOS, regardless of whether you use Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

But in early 2018, two mobile browsers, Cake Browser and DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, brought new and useful ways to search, navigate, and protect your privacy. Here are two features from each of these browsers that I find interesting and distinctive. Both apps are available for Android and iOS devices.

Privacy Grades (DuckDuckGo)

For every site you visit, DuckDuckGo shows a privacy grade, which ranges from an A (the best) to F (the worst). When you tap the grade, you'll see the items that comprise the score: the presence or absence of an encrypted connection, tracker networks, along with the site's privacy policies. You can tap to see the details for each item. For example, when I visited www.nfl.com, DuckDuckGo showed that the app had blocked tracker networks from Adobe, Chartbeat, Google, Proclivity, along with two other trackers from the NFL.

In my browsing, I noticed that many sites received a 'B' grade. To receive an 'A' grade, the site's privacy policies need to have been reviewed and rated positively. DuckDuckGo relies on ToS;DR for privacy policy scores. Since the vast majority of websites have not yet had their policies reviewed, a 'B' indicates a reasonably good privacy grade.

If you work for an organization, take a look at the privacy grade for your own site. The grade may help prompt internal discussions about your site's use of encryption or tracker networks.

GIF shows DuckDuckGo "SpreadPrivacy.com" site, finger taps on Privacy Grade ("A") in upper right, privacy results details show (encryption, no trackers, privacy policy)

DuckDuckGo shows a privacy grade for each site you visit. Tap the grade to explore privacy details.

Easy-to-clear history (DuckDuckGo)

It takes two taps to erase all of your tabs and browsing history in DuckDuckGo. The same action typically takes three taps in Firefox, and at least four taps in Chrome, Safari, or Microsoft Edge. A less widely-used browser, Firefox Focus, offers a prominent erase button that clears your history with just one tap.

GIF showing finger tapping the fire icon, then "Clear Tabs and Data"

Tap the fire icon, then "Clear Tabs and Data" in DuckDuckGo to erase your mobile browsing history.

One-tap search by type (Cake Browser)

Cake Browser displays five icons above your keyboard as you enter search terms. By default, if you tap "Go" or hit "enter," the browser returns standard web search results. Or, tap an icon to narrow your search to video, images, news, or shopping sites.

Note the sequence: With Cake you can narrow your search before the app retrieves results. With most browsers, you enter terms, see results, and only then can you tap to refine the results to video, images, etc. Cake lets you restrict results to the desired type with a tap before it retrieves results.

GIF shows "falcon heavy" search term, then tap on image search icon, image results from Google appear

Cake streamlines mobile search: Type your search terms, then tap one of the search icons to search for videos, images, the web, news, or products. This sequence shows an image search.

Swipe-to-switch between search results (Cake Browser)

Cake shows search results as web pages, not lists of links. Cake loads and shows the first search result automatically. If the page isn't what you want, swipe to see the next page. Then swipe to the next. Scroll down to read a bit of an article. Then swipe to the next. Or swipe back. The whole search-swipe-scroll sequence feels very mobile-native to me. You can adjust the sequence, and in some cases which sites, serve as the source of results. You also may limit or disable pre-loading of pages to decrease data usage.

GIF shows search for "mobile news techrepublic", first page loads, finger swipes, next page displays, and repeats.

Instead of a list of links, Cake lets you swipe between search results.

Your thoughts?

I view both Cake and the mobile DuckDuckGo app as intriguing alternatives to mobile browsers like Chrome and Safari. I'd love to see a clear, easy-to-access privacy grade for websites become part of every mobile browser. And swipe-to-switch between web pages in Cake is a browsing experience that's hard to forget once you've tried it. I like it, and I'm keeping both Cake and DuckDuckGo on my mobile devices.

Have you tried search-and-swipe browsing with Cake? Or explored private search and the privacy grades in DuckDuckGo? Let me know what you think of either app —in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).


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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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