Want Ad-Free Browsing Experience? Check Out Aviator Browser from WhiteHat
Aviator browser became publicly available about 10 months ago, but I did not get to install it until October, even though I have been meaning to review a new web browser wearing privacy on its sleeves. Now that I have spent nearly two months with it, I am ready to define my impressions.
First of all, Aviator is based on Chromium open source code, but is not open source in itself. The first is good because most browser extensions that work with Chrome also work with Aviator. Some web services, like Gmail's Recent Activity tab, define Aviator as Chrome, too. It is also bad because Aviator itself not being open source means independent audit is not possible, which would have been a very welcome luxury for the paranoid users. For one, many users these days prefer to try out European or Asian products instead of American, and Aviator being a brainchild of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Web security firm WhiteHat Security might make those privacy paranoids wondering if it's just another NSA project, like the once Tor was.
International hostility aside, Aviator does what other browsers can do, but that would require a certain level of tech savvy from the users. For example, my parents won't bother to install any privacy browser extensions, and neither do they know where a browser's settings are. Therefore, Aviator will do good to those of you who WANT more privacy, but don't have enough expertise to mingle with settings and extensions. Although, Aviator does a couple more things I found great.
Installation does not differ much from that of any other browser, and there is no bundle with the download. It would have been funny if there was. Currently, Aviator works for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, as well as Mac OSX versions. It also runs on Win XP, Vista and 2003. The browser requires a modest 100 MB disk space, and 128 MB of your RAM.
I installed it on my older Win 7 64-bit laptop and a newer Win 8.1 all-in-one PC, and I can see the speed difference. Whereas it takes significantly longer for the browser to load on my laptop, it loads just like the regular Chrome on my Win 8.1 PC.
Aviator does what any other browser does - lets you browse the Internet, but it also makes it difficult for the websites and advertisers to track you, throw cookies at you, or track where you came from. Let us see these privacy settings.
Google Disconnect/Duck Duck Go Disconnect - Aviator comes with a Disconnect extension, which is one of the best Chrome extensions according to numerous tech reviewers. It blocks websites that track your browsing and search history, and it also shows you the breakdown of those services in its window. You will see a green letter D at the top right hand corner of your Aviator, and when the D becomes yellow and displays a number on it, you can click it to see which trackers Disconnect has blocked on this or that webpage. That extension is open-source, and you can install it on any other browser.
Referral block - Aviator blocks referral markers, which are used by websites and advertisers to know where you come from, i.e. which website displayed their ads and brought them a lead. Those referral markers also bring a lot of your personal information along, which in itself is a violation of user privacy.
Java - Aviator does support Java 6, but not Java 7. It also blocks all Java content by default, which means if you want to watch a YouTube video, you will have to click Run Java Plugin on a particular YouTube page. Here is why it is good - sometimes, users get redirected to websites that have Java content, and regular browsers let them play by default. For example, IBTimes website has this super-annoying video ads playing at the top right corner. While IBTimes may not be malicious, video ads may be, and the worst thing is Java is an open gateway for the ads tracking and malicious apps to get to your computer. Aviator cuts those short.
Ad Block - you will not see any ads in Aviator, which is why one and the same page will look so different in Aviator and any other browser.
Aviator also has Do Not Track enabled by default.
Another great feature is it opens in Protected mode by default, which is an equivalent to Incognito or Private mode in other browsers. It means the browser will not remember your login credentials, and your browsing history gets deleted the moment you close it. You can go to settings, and have your Aviator remember your logins and passwords, as well as open in Unprotected mode, as well as run Java by default, but what would be the point in installing Aviator in the first place?
As I said, it loads slower on my Win 7 machine than on my Win 8.1 PC. It also blocks all Share buttons, so I can not use Aviator with my Twitter when I want to share news and articles - I simply don't see the share on twitter button.
Folks doing developer work in their browser will also find it very limiting, but a regular user will not even know what they mean.
I would not recommend users feel to laid-back even when using Aviator - it will not anonymize your online presence, and neither is it enough for a secure chatting. If the latter is on your mind, check out Cryptocat, or read this overview of apps for encrypted chatting.
- Disconnect extension enabled by default
- Blocks ads - websites look uncluttered
- Has DuckDuck Go
- Has Do Not Track Enabled by default
- Blocks Java by default
- Automatic update
- You can import your bookmarks from any other browser
- Aviator gives detailed instructions on how to uninstall itself, with all the folders and files you need to clean manually - something that few products do
- It is not open source, thus closed for audit
- No Android, iOS, Linux versions so far
- Slower in performance
- Kills all Share buttons on websites
Install the respective extensions and set things up the same as in Aviator, and your regular Chrome may work that way, although I am not sure which setting blocks ads in Aviator. Or, you could download Tor, or even Amnesia.
WhiteHat folks believe in privacy for everyone, which would 'democratize security and privacy for the masses.' The prevalent majority of companies creating browsers work with Google or Bing directly to monetize their browsers, which means users are left with no choice other than agreeing to compromise their own privacy and security in exchange for a free convenience. In this regard, Aviator is a nice contrast to mainstream browsers, and considering it does not alter your browsing experience too much, you might as well stick to it. Bear in mind, though, that using a more or less private browser does not mean you can do dumb things and visit malicious websites recklessly without compromising yourself. It does not keep you logged in across browser sessions since it runs in Protected (Incognito) mode by default, so if you are an avid Googler, keeping your Chrome tabs synchronized across your devices, you may find Aviator too demanding.