2013-12-19

Co.Labs

Dolphin's New Ultra-Private Browser Is Cool, But It Wouldn't Have Saved The Would-be Harvard Bomber

Are "secure" browsers worth the trouble when they can be so easily subverted by authorities?



Dolphin Zero, a new privacy-focused mobile browser, is the latest to jump into the Snapchat way of life. The standard version of Dolphin is already a popular third party option with ~82 million installs. But MoboTap, the company behind the mobile browser, is trying to offer an easier and ready-made solution for novice users concerned with leaving a trail of data behind.

The way Dolphin Zero focuses on privacy is more passive than active. It won’t store or collect any data and exiting the app automatically deletes any history, cookies, and other traces left behind. Do Not Track is turned on by default and instead of Google search, the browser uses the privacy-centric Duck Duck Go search engine. Zero is a noble first step towards consumer privacy, but the app still feels like it's missing an extra layer of real security. As a Harvard student learned this week, even using Tor can't protect you from a little old-fashioned detective work; after receiving a campus bomb threat, Harvard IT was able to pinpoint the student on the network who had downloaded the Tor browser just before the threat was called in. From there it was easy to confirm the source.

A less purpose-built browser than Dolphin Zero is probably appropriate even for the most paranoid Internet users. Opera's experimental iPad browser, Coast, is probably the most forward-thinking about Internet surfing on mobile. Coast also promotes privacy in a friendly yet passive way, suggesting that this will be part of the norm going forward. When using Coast, simply closing a browsing screen clears its cookies and the history. Settings can also be changed to clear browsing history on app launch, but these do have to be changed by the user and aren’t on by default.

Those looking for real privacy will likely want to look deeper. Orweb, available for Android, supports Tor browsing as well as a host of additional privacy features including: whitelisting of cookies, no local history, disabling Flash, and requiring only Internet permissions.

On iOS, the Onion Browser is one of the more popular options to support Tor browsing. The app has been around for a while, but has been updated for iOS 7.

We have little doubt that "privacy" will continue to be a buzzword of 2014, and even though privacy focused browser isn't breaking new ground, its defaults are still reason to get excited. Hopefully more companies will follow suit.

[Image: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]