Web browser leaves no footprints

Browzar deletes Internet caches, histories, cookies to protect user privacy

The latest entrant to the crowded Internet browser market is the appropriately named Browzar, a tool specifically designed to protect users' privacy by not retaining details of the Web sites they've searched.

Most Web browsers like Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer automatically save users' searches in Internet caches and histories. Users do have the option of deleting the history folder and emptying the Internet cache, but many people either don't know how to do that or tend not to, leaving a trail of where they've been online behind them in the browser.

Browzar is being officially launched Thursday but can already be run or downloaded from its Web site. Users don't have to register to use the free browser.

Browzar automatically deletes Internet caches, histories, cookies and auto-complete forms. Auto-complete is the feature that anticipates the search term or Web address a user might enter by relying on information previously entered into the browser.

Browzar is the brainchild of Ajaz Ahmed, the man behind Freeserve, the first U.K. Internet service provider (ISP) to offer free Internet access to customers in the late 1990s. He sold Freeserve -- which quickly became the U.K.'s largest ISP -- to France Télécom SA's Wanadoo operation in 2001 for £1.6 billion (US$3 billion).

"Privacy is becoming a bigger issue," Ahmed said, pointing to the recent leak of more than 20 million user search queries by AOL LLC. "The AOL story highlights the issue that some of the things people are searching for are very, very personal."

The Browzar site contains a page of stories from users who have either discovered things they rather not have known about their friends and loved ones through their Web browser's history or auto-complete feature or who have had information revealed they would have preferred kept private. For example, Ahmed cited a statistic that 35 percent of people using matchmaking Web sites are already married.

While Freeserve was focused on the needs of the U.K. market, Ahmed hopes Browzar will have global appeal, particularly anywhere users are going online on shared computers, for instance, at Internet cafes.

Browzar is very small in size, 264 kilobytes, and downloads within a few seconds. The browser is currently available for Windows and Ahmed plans versions for the Mac OS and Linux. Browzar is in beta testing at present and should enter general availability some time next month, he said.

Ahmed has formed a private company, Browzar Ltd., based in Huddersfield in the U.K. which he is fully funding, to help support and market the new browser. He's also hoping interest in Browzar will be driven by word of mouth and the Internet to achieve the kind of ubiquity enjoyed by the likes of Skype, MySpace and YouTube.

So far, Browzar the company has a handful of employees, but Ahmed is planning to release more sophisticated versions of the Web browser as well as server-side applications. He plans to take on more staff as the company's product portfolio grows.

Browzar doesn't limit law enforcement's ability to track an individual's online behavior. "We don't make people invisible on the Internet; it's a privacy tool for your own desktop PC or the PC you're using," Ahmed said. "Law enforcement can still go to ISPs if they want; we don't override anything."

Browzar includes a search engine and the startup will generate money through revenue-sharing deals with search engine providers. Initially, the relationship is with Yahoo Inc.'s Overture advertising sales subsidiary, but Ahmed plans to set up additional partnerships with other search companies over time to give users a choice of search engines.

Ahmed came up with the name "Browzar" as one that was simple to both say and remember. He said he was surprised that the domains browzar.com, browzar.net and browzar.co.uk were still available.

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