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Yandex tries to improve privacy features of its new browser

Yandex tries to improve privacy features of its new browser

A newly-released beta version is available for Windows and Mac OS

Yandex' browser offers three search engine options dependent on a users' location

Yandex' browser offers three search engine options dependent on a users' location

Russian Internet company Yandex has released a beta version of its new browser that the company says is more privacy-friendly than an earlier build.

Unlike an alpha version released last year, the Yandex.Browser beta doesn't send usage statistics to the company by default. However, other information will still be shared, so it remains to be seen whether the privacy safeguards will be compelling enough to attract a substantial number of users, as the company hopes.

Yandex, which runs Russia's most popular search engine, decided to make this beta version more privacy friendly than the alpha in response to feedback from users in Germany, Canada and the U.S.

The company already has a browser, which it launched in 2012 and which is mostly used in its home market. The company refers to that existing browser as "Classic" and offers it for Mac OS, Windows, Android and iOS.

Yandex wants the new browser under development to attract more international users. "It is an attempt to get some traction outside of Russia with something different than search," said Yandex spokesman Vladimir Isaev.

The new browser doesn't capture web usage data by default. However, users can opt in and tick a box to send anonymous browser usage statistics to the company to help improve services.

The browser also offers a stealth mode that can be activated by clicking a button and that blocks analytics cookies, sharing plugins and other trackers.

Users whose computers don't run Linux can hide their true OS from the sites they visit by checking an option in the browser settings that identifies their OS falsely as Linux. Yandex believes this is a useful option for users because Linux users are rarely targeted by advertisers.

The stealth mode functionality was developed by the team behind Moscow based ad-blocker AdGuard, and its code was made available on Github. Stealth mode lets users whitelist sites and determine which tracking methods they want to block.

However, the browser shares some information with search engines in anonymized form. To generate search suggestions and offer instant results without redirecting the user to a search results page, the browser has to share search terms with the search engine as the user enters them into the browser, Yandex said.

Other features like sending crash reports or resolving web navigation errors that also require the sharing of user information remain switched on by default too, Yandex said, adding that these can all be disabled.

When the browser is launched for the first time, users can choose from three search engines. The options depend on a users' location and in the Netherlands it showed Google, Bing and Yandex as options.

The browser has a minimalist design that lets a website almost fill the whole screen. It has a URL and search bar at the top of the screen while tabs are grouped at the bottom.

The beta of Yandex.Browser was made available for Windows and Mac OS. It comes in 15 languages including English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Portuguese.

Like the "Classic" browser, the new one is based on Chromium and Opera Turbo.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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