Brave's user base exploded in May, but it can still do more

Brave browser running on a PC, mobile device, and tablet
(Image credit: Brave browser)

Brave might not be the most well-known web browser out there, but it's certainly making a splash in a sphere dominated by the likes of the data-hungry Google Chrome. In fact, the browser recently revealed that it recorded a record number of new users in May—which begs the question: why?

The most overt answer is that the browser touts itself as an open-source and privacy-first service that isn't interested in gobbling up your personal information in order to turn a profit. It comes with built-in ad-blocking and malware protection tools, too, and can be used totally free of charge.

Some folks still have reservations, however, seeing as Brave is built from the Chromium Web core, and recent issues linger in the mind of any security-conscious consumer. So, I decided to see for myself, and figure out whether Brave's user surge is a sign of things to come or a happy coincidence.

What is Brave? 

In a nutshell, Brave is a web browser, just like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, that you can download for your desktop, Android, or iOS device. It's free to use, which is always nice to hear, and the accompanying Brave search engine is an extra cherry on top.

Brave differentiates itself by prioritizing user privacy, and not trying to pull the wool over your eyes with pre-configured settings designed to capture as much data from your browsing sessions as possible. It's valuable currency for advertisers and other dodgy third parties, after all, as they use it to develop detailed profiles about your habits and the things you've shown an interest in buying, then tailor targeted ads based on what they learn. It's invasive, to say the least.

Brave's best (and most useful) privacy tools are enabled by default—like its ad-blocker—which is a massive plus in my books, seeing as most of us don't take regular deep dives into our browser settings.

You'll also be protected from fingerprinting, phishing scams, malware attacks, and other digital nasties. Plus, Brave has some funky extras, like support for free video calls and offline playlists, and a customizable news feed—all of which make it feel like more than just a branded landing page.

Keeping count

The Brave browser keeps track of how many ads it blocks over the course of your browsing sessions, and some of the numbers I've seen users report on Reddit are huge—sometimes exceeding 1 million blocked ads

If you really want to turbo-charge your online privacy, Brave’s Forgetful Browsing mode is well worth checking out. It removes cookies automatically every time you leave a site, so you won't stay logged in, which prevents them from recognizing you if you open them up again. I was glad to see Brave implement the Off The Record (OTR) feature, too, which allows users to hide their browsing traffic from other folks using the same device—an invaluable aid for victims of domestic abuse.

Finally, there's the Brave VPN. You'll need to fork out for a subscription to make the most of it, however, and it'll set you back $9.99 per month. In return, your web traffic, the sites you visit, and anything else you get up to will be kept hidden from nosey onlookers (including your ISP, workplace, and government).

While having a VPN baked right into the browser is undeniably handy, it does have its limitations—for one thing, the Brave VPN only supports 5 simultaneous connections and offers servers in 13 countries. That’s not as generous an offering as you’ll find with the best VPNs out there but you can sweeten the pot by making good use of Brave VPN’s 7-day free trial.

Can Brave be braver? 

The Brave browser is jam-packed with features but, like most software, it has its hiccups. The ad-blocking tool is a little hit-and-miss when it comes to YouTube, for example, and users on Reddit have experienced random switches between the light and dark mode.

There's also the fact that Brave came under fire in October last year for installing its VPN without express user permission. Naturally, that's not the best look for a privacy-oriented browser, but the issue has since been addressed. Brave's privacy policy also does a solid job of outlining its stance on data logging—namely that it's just not interested in gathering any.

It states:

"Our company does not store any record of people’s browsing history. We don’t write any personal data to the blockchain. The only way a user's data is stored by Brave is if the user has switched on Rewards or Sync."

The only caveat here is that anyone who signs up for the Brave rewards program will also opt into some data collection—but that's a given, seeing as it's how users gather and redeem points.

Final thoughts 

In my humble opinion, the Brave browser is a great alternative to today’s more popular (but more data-hungry) services. It's not a perfect product, given that the ad-blocker sometimes forgets to do its job, but the fact that it automatically sets users up for success and boosted security goes a long way. You can check out its extra tools if you want—though the Brave VPN is somewhat overpriced.

Factor in that Brave is free to use and open source, and you've got a browser that'll work for privacy purists looking to escape the clutches of Big Tech and casual users interested in putting a stop to annoying ads, trackers, and malware.

River Hart
Tech Software Editor

River is a Tech Software Editor and VPN expert at TechRadar. They’re on-hand to keep VPN and cybersecurity content up-to-date and accurate. When they’re not helping readers find the best VPNs around (and the best deals), River can be found in close proximity to their PS5 or being pushed about the countryside by the lovely Welsh weather.