A fantastic invention of Russian IT masters is a Branded Browser — a brilliant tool for spying. It has everything for “safe” browsing but doesn’t guarantee open source code and well established user privacy. Is it safe to use such a browsers and how are they created?
What Is a Branded Browser?
To make a branded browser, a company takes an already existing browser (Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Chromium or Chrome) and makes some insignificant modifications to it. They can change a logo, rename a few menu options or insert third-party extensions, search boxes or advertising spots.
An example of a branded browser is the Russian government’s “Sputnik-Browser,”built upon Firefox and based on the government-owned “Sputnik” search engine.
The browser provides features like blocking ”unnecessary content,” protecting kids with ”parent control,” cutting out ”the most annoying and awful ads,” and so on. Also, you can access the official online pages of local government, get access to local government services’ telephone numbers and local maps.
The Sputnik Browser has a feature for parents called ”online scoring.” It works through ”dnevnik.ru” (dnevnik means diary in Russian), an online school ratings service. Parents can watch how their kids are doing at the school right from their house or workplace through this extension.
This browser won’t work on Linux-based OS and is only for Windows, Android and iOS. In the future, developers promise new Synchronization Feature and united login system.
Porn, Tits and Schoolgirls
“It’s very important for us when typing ‘schoolgirl’ in the search box to find girls in accurate dresses and white aprons, but not something different,” says Rostelecom Vice President Alexey Basov when asked about the government-curated Sputnik search engine.
Russian users seemed to test just how well the search engine filtered out this pornographic content. Statistics show that main words searched on Sputnik during May 29, 2015 may was ”Tits” and ”Porn.” On the same day, Yandex statistics showed ”odnoklassniki” and ”vk.com” (popular Russian social networks) words as a primary search requests. This means most of users used the Sputnik search engine only to search for things that it blocks, which brings its purpose of censorship into question.
Since Sputnik’s launch May 22, 2015 its user count fell by six times. On May 22, it was at about 141.8 thousand users, but by May 27, only 23.6 thousand searches went through the browser.
Yandex Branded Browser
The Yandex e-mail service is scary to use because of context advertising right in the mailbox and a standard ”we will disclose your info to the government” license agreement.
Yandex is a small Russian version of Google, with surveillance enabled by default. The feature is enabled in the browser through a so-called ”smart address line,” which sends any entered text to Yandex servers for ”analyzing.”
Yandex is a closed source project, based on Chromium open source code and some other open source projects. It has a list of pretty good tools for comfort surfing, and if you think you don’t need privacy, it could be a good tool for work. For example, foreign journalists could use this search engine as a compass for Russian “pop” segments of the Internet.
There are lot of similar products created by webmasters from all over Russia, both for government and private companies, to spy on users and make some profit. When you see their products — just avoid using them and don’t let anyone know what do you do on the Web. Government software is the most dangerous in Russia, because it records everything.
Corporate software makes no difference, because it has no strong encryption and all the private user data can be intercepted directly by anyone (including the hackers) or by request.
What do you think of Russian branded browsers? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of AppleApple, Yandex.