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Custom Chrome Browser Promises More Privacy, No Tracking

Hidden Reflex launches Chromium-based browser tweaked to block advertisers' tracking networks while speeding up page-load times.
"We don't want you to have to 'trust us with your data,'" said Bhardwaj. "So, for example, searches through our search engine will go via a third-party proxy to us and via HTTPS -- HTTPS means the proxy doesn't know what you're searching and the proxy means we can't know what you're searching for."

One contractual precondition of using Chromium, he said, is that "sponsored results" must be allowed to run alongside searches. On the other hand, "search is really lucrative," he said. "So if we get users and they do search with us a bit, we should be fine in terms of monetizing and be able to offer more amazing privacy services -- next for us would be a mobile browser -- at no cost, we hope."

The browser's introduction parallels a more widespread push by browser makers to increase the out-of-the-box privacy controls available to users. Mozilla, for example, said in June that, despite sharp criticism from the online advertising industry, it is advancing plans to have Firefox block by default many types of cookies and tracking technology.

Still, don't some browsers already offer privacy or incognito browsing modes of one kind or another? In fact, Bhardwaj cited a June 2013 study from security research firm NSS Labs, which noted that "private browsing does not prevent tracking, but rather it is designed to erase the history of a user's actions when the browser is closed."

To date, consumers have been left to their own devices when it comes to resisting online advertisers' tracking attempts. For starters, efforts to forge an agreement on some type of voluntary Do Not Track (DNT) flag in browsers have stalled. The capability was meant to give consumers an easy way to indicate that they didn't want their browsing activity to be tracked. But after Microsoft said that it would enable DNT by default in Internet Explorer 10, the advertising industry quit the DNT discussions in a huff.

On the legal front, despite DNT legislation having been introduced in 2011, Congress has failed to pass any laws that would force online advertisers in the United States to respect consumers' tracking preferences. Likewise, data brokers have a relatively free hand when it comes to buying and selling people's personal information.

That freedom could change, however. The Federal Trade Commission has been taking a closer interest in data brokers' information-collection practices, which could presage data brokers being required to reveal to consumers every piece of their personal information that's been tracked, recorded or sold.

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Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
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