Chrome alternative: Yandex privacy browser review

Yandex.Browser is an Internet browser focused in privacy developed by Yandex, a search engine giant in Russia. Due to its Chromium interface and Blink rendering engine you will not have any compatibility problem viewing pages with this browser, websites will believe you are using the Chrome browser, if a page works in Chrome it will also work with the Yandex browser. I have been using Yandex for three months straight, every day and not once I have come across a site looking different of what it does in Chrome, in the rare event of a problem, bugs can submitted to Yandex developers with the integrated feedback form, an extension that can be removed if it bothers you.

During browser installation you will be asked what search engine you would like to use by default and given the choice of Google, Bing or Yandex. I don’t like any of those search engines, I use DuckDuckGo because it does not record my computer IP and it respects my privacy. To set a different search engine, after installation visit DuckDuckGo, or StartPage.com, go to Settings>Manage search engine>Find DDG on the list and select “Make default“.

Changing the default searcher is easy to do for people familiar with the Chrome browser menu interface, but for new Internet users, it will be hard to find. A browser built for privacy, like Yandex, should allow users to select a privacy searcher during installation instead of forcing them to do it manually.

Yandex privacy Internet browser
Yandex privacy Internet browser

The one thing you will find odd when you first use the Yandex browser is that tabs are not above the fold like all other browsers do, Yandex gets rid of the toolbar, hiding the URL you visit, and places the tabs below. It should not be a huge problem once you are familiarized with the set up and you will appreciate the extra viewing space, you will also notice a very cool animated background with moving clouds, I tested the CPU usage of this visual gimmick using the Windows Task Manager and I was very pleased that it didn’t utilize CPU at all. The browser background can be changed to a different animation right clicking on it and selecting “Change background“, it took me two months to discover that there are twelve different backgrounds.

Now going into the drummed privacy and anonymity features of this browser, it comes ready with various Chrome browser extensions, for security management you will find: Site Reputation WOT, indicating what sites can be trusted, AdGuard, to block pop up and flash banners, and Blocks Flash, blocking all kind of Flash. Nothing too impressive, not bad but not great either. Other extensions that come by default with the Yandex browser are Lastpass, Evernote and Save Articles for later reading, I did not understand why Yandex ships two extensions that do the same thing but they all can be uninstalled and are turned off from the beginning.

The most relevant security features of this browser have to be that downloads and sites you visit are automatically scanned in the cloud with Kaspersky, one of the best antivirus companies in the World, if you visit a site with malware you will be stopped and a red warning will cover the screen. Another singularity is that if you wish to sync bookmarks, passwords and settings Google servers will not be used, you have to open an account with Yandex own free cloud storage service, called Yandex.Disk, this can be good if you prefer a Russian company to store your personal data instead of an American one, it is your choice, myself I never sync anything with anybody, my data, my property, even if that means reduced functionality.

Yandex browser opening .doc file
Yandex browser opening .doc file

There is a Stealth mode in Yandex that is meant to block online trackers, social widgets like Facebook and third party cookies, as well as hiding your computer IP from sites you visit, I tried it multiple times and the cookies and widget blocking worked but the part where my computer IP is meant to be hidden never did.

Other unique features that I liked are that if you have a Yandex email account, available in English, the browser can notify you on new messages without having to open the page, you can read .doc and .pdf documents inside the browser without plugins, the tabs are all coloured which makes easy to distinguish them and people on metered or slow connections using 4G can take advantage of page caching, the Yandex browser comes with Opera turbo, a proxy server fetching popular pages for you and downloading them to your browser without having to visit the website, perhaps that is where the claim of Yandex hiding your computer IP comes from.

What I dont like from the Yandex browser is that when I hoover my mouse over an hyperlink I can’t see the URL address, I have no way of knowing if clicking on it will take me to a bait site or the original website, I was unimpressed too by the extensions Yandex comes with, I missed a proxy extension for anonymous surfing, and after some digging I found the help manual for the browser, it should have been placed more prominently, if Yandex is going to promote this browser for privacy, they could as well draw a comparison table explaining what makes Yandex different from Chrome.

Overall, I see myself using this browser because I don’t have dealings with Russia and prefer a company from a country at odds with the USA managing my privacy, probably Russian secret services subpoena their tech companies just like the USA, but the level of cooperation in between Russia and the USA is nothing like the direct data pipeline that UK&USA&NZ&AUS have.

Important! The Yandex addons link redirects you to the Opera addons store, a very limited out of date extension store, I was about to swap browser because they do not have the KeePass autofill password manager extension available. I have now discovered that if you visit the Chrome official extensions store with ten times more extensions than Opera, everything installs just fine, I am using chromeIPass, a Keepass extension, without any problem.

Visit Yandex.browser homepage

Review privacy Internet browser Comodo Dragon

Comodo Dragon is a privacy focused Internet browser based in open source Google Chromium. Its interface looks like Chrome but has been modified to add privacy features and stop Google from gathering personal data.

During browser installation you will be asked if you would like to use Comodo secure DNS, If you choose yes this will change your Internet Service Provider DNS servers making it more difficult  for your ISP to censor websites and spy on you. Websites you visit will be scanned to detect malware, when you click on a link taking you to a bad site Comodo Secure DNS will block it with a warning and give you the possibility to disregard the block, my experience so far has been that sometimes the wrong sites are blacklisted, there is the possibility to send feedback to Comodo when that happens.

Another security feature of Comodo Dragon is that it will always ask for SSL pages when available, looking up digital certificates and verifying them. The browser will also protect you from advertisements. An included extension called PrivDog will block Google Adsense and other tracking adverts replacing them with banners from AdTrustMedia, a company that does not use cookies to monitor what you do on the Internet. Privdog can be disabled and specific sites whitelisted if you would like to support them allowing adverts from those pages.

Comodo Secure DNS block
Comodo Secure DNS block

In Comodo Dragon privacy you can create different profiles, this way you do not have to erase cookies all the time, you can create a profile to be used in trusted sites and another one that you regularly erase to visit sites that track you across the Internet. And if you visit porn or warez sites the best is to switch to Comodo virtual mode, this will contain the browser inside a virtual box, stopping viruses from spreading to the operating system. In virtual mode any possible malware infection only lasts until you close the browser, the only consideration is that you need a little more RAM to run virtual mode than in normal mode. This is like having Sandboxie for free.

The few annoying things I found in Comodo Dragon were that changing the homepage, which is set to Yahoo by default, is not straight forward, more of a Google Chrome design fault than Comodo. To change Comodo Dragon homepage go to “Settings” where it says “On Startup“, next to “open a specific page or set of pages“, click on “set pages“, this will take you to a box where to enter your favourite homepage, to erase the default Yahoo homepage hoover over the link and you will see a cross appearing next it, click on the cross and the default home page will be erased.

The second annoying thing was changing the default search engine. A smooth way to do that is visiting Google Chrome market place and add a privacy search engine addon like DuckDuckGo. You will be invited to sign up for a Google Account to keep your settings, it will be best if you don’t because this places again your life in the hands of Google and any NSA device they might have installed in their cloud servers.

If you are not a fan of the Chrome browser Comodo also builds a privacy focused Mozilla based browser called Comodo Ice Dragon, with a Firefox interface that lets you use FIrefox addons.

Visit Comodo Dragon homepage