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09 November, 2013

Epic browser blocks ads on Twitter, stops people from tracking you online

It is called the Epic Privacy Browser, it is new, free and promises complete online privacy to users.

Epic also disables the stealth advertising business model used by many Web sites including Twitter and most media, and commercial brands.

Twitter's 'promoted posts' (a.k.a. paid advertising) disappear instantly.

Those ads are what Twitter investors hope will someday deliver profits.

Compare how my Twitter stream looks in Epic versus the Chrome Web browser.

Screen grab of my Twitter feed using the Chrome Web browser:

I highlighted the sponsored ad from Intel.

And the same page viewed with the Epic browser.

The Intel ad is gone, as if it never happened.

I have been testing the Epic browser for a month to see if it is a secure browser good enough for everyday journalism purposes.

So far, I have learned that the browser's anti-tracking and privacy claims have not failed even once.

I expected to see that Web sites like The Los Angeles Times attempt to connect me to several dozen different Web trackers whenever I read one of their articles.

Every time you visit a Web page that uses tracking, the Epic Web browser gives you a brief pop up window with a tattle-tale report revealing the stealth tracking that you probably never knew about. 

The LA Times Web page shown here actually tried to install 37 trackers, but the pop-up window is displayed so briefly by the Epic browser, I couldn't screen grab it fast enough.

I did not expect to never see ads or be able to bypass paywall limits for every news site I visit.

I also did not expect to read the fine print at their Web site and learn that The Washington Post is a backer of the project.

Let me just state the obvious.
I can visit The Washington Post's Web site and never leave a trace, never be tracked and never see an ad.

I wonder how many Washington Post journalists use the Epic browser or even know of it's existence?

So how does this pro-privacy browser accomplish all of this security magic?

Methodically, it seems.

Epic browser claims it:

1. Is built on a fork of the open-source Chromium browser.
Security experts prefer tools that are built with open source code - exploits and bugs are squashed more effectively and without government interference.  

2. Blocks privacy leaks in at least 11 different areas.
The keys points are: Address bar and URL tracking are removed, Installation tracking is removed, and error tracking are removed.

3. Provides comprehensive private browsing.
No history, No third-party cookies, No cache, no Google sync, no autofill, etc.

4. Clears all your browsing data when closed.
Data bases, local storage, prefs, visited links, and more than 20 other data files that most users are never even aware are kept in their normal browser activity. Things like Pepper Data and Origin Bound Certificates. 

5. Provides comprehensive ad and tracker blocking.
The examples at the top of this post show the effect of a browser that, by default, blocks tracking scripts, tracking cookies, tracking agents, ad networks, and third party widgets.

6. Provide a US IP proxy connection for free.
With one click the browser will use a proxy service to obfuscate your IP address. Be aware that this is good, but not foolproof. The Epic site even advises that Flash, Java and even HTML5 can leak your IP address, so if you want complete IP security - you will be using a private VPN combined with a TOR install (among other things).

7. Provides a private search engine.
You can select Duckduckgo or the Epic search engine - both of which promise never to save, share or sell your search data.

8. Hides your referrer header data.
What this means is that they don't send your search terms to Web pages you visit from search engines. This plugs a huge privacy hole that almost no Web users are consciously aware of.

9. Tells every Web site you visit to not track you.
By default, the browser enables the do not track signal that honest Web sites are required to obey.

10. Auto-complete address bar is local.
When you type in a URL, the auto-complete is pulled from your machine and not shared with Web search engines and their partners. 

11. Connects using HTTPS
By default the Epic browser will attempt to make a secure encrypted connection to every Web site you visit.
The Epic Privacy Browser is available for free download and runs on Mac and Windows PCs.

I wonder how soon until we see a version for mobile phones? Mobile tracking and stealth data and identity collection remains my greatest concern in protecting journalists in the field.

Please let me know in comments what your experiences are with secure browsing technologies.