Browzar privacy not so great

Yesterday I read about a new web browser, called Browzar, on BBC News. This browser, so claimed the BBC , would offer “total privacy for its users” by removing any trace of the sites they had visited from the computer.

Today, the BBC article‘s claims have been significantly toned down. Now the program simply “leaves no trace of a user’s online surfing habits on their computer.”

The new version of the article is, of course, more accurate. Browzar only offers local privacy. In other words, other people using your computer – or more exactly, people using your user account – won’t be able to see which pages you’ve visited or what search terms you’ve Googled. Once the data has left your computer, it makes no difference. Your ISP knows what sites you have visited, as does anyone else “listening in” on any of the dozen-or-so computers between you and the web server. Total privacy it is not.

The other main change to the article concerns Browzar’s relationship with Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). Originally it said that Browzar was “similar to” IE. In actual fact, Browzar is simply an IE shell, a wrapper that goes around Microsoft’s browser (which is why it’s only 264K to download). Therefore it will have all the security loopholes and rendering deficiencies that IE has. Versions of Browzar are promised for the Mac and Linux, but as neither of these can run IE it seems that the Browzar on these platforms will have little in common with the Windows version.

The article states that “Most browsers, including Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari, allow users to [delete cookies, history, cache, etc.] manually… but it is often fiddly…” Originally it only mentioned IE: I wonder why they saw the need to add Safari, but didn’t mention Mozilla Firefox, the most popular browser after IE? Firefox already runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, and since version 1.5 it has had a nice feature in the Tools menu, “Clear Private Data”, which is also accessible by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Delete. This allows all the same data to be cleared that Browzar clears after each session.

Given all the advantages that Firefox already has over IE, I’d recommend using it instead of Browzar. It’s easy enough to remove any information you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Browzar’s developers say it is “designed to be run at those times when we want privacy”, and that it should complement existing browsers. So instead of taking the trouble to start a different browser to view “private” sites, why not instead just press Ctrl+Shift+Delete when you have finished?

Better still, create separate user accounts for everyone, with passwords, so that no-one else needs to use your browser (and can’t look at your documents either).

The one place where Browzar would come in useful is in internet cafes where only IE is available. Browzar can be downloaded and used without requiring administrative privileges. But then don’t forget: someone could still be looking over your shoulder.

Update, 3 September: It seems Browzar has been widely derided for making its users use a pay-per-click search engine, forcing the BBC to carry a new article on these criticisms. A good quote from web3.0log:

There was time when badware developers tried to install ad pages as homepage or searchpage in user’s IE by any possible means. Nowadays users install adware voluntarily and write news about it. True web2.0 style!

I think this is definitely one download to steer clear of.

One response to “Browzar privacy not so great”

  1. It's A Free World, Baby

    Have i seen this somewhere before?

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