Zoho launches ‘Ulaa’ browser for privacy-conscious users

Business solutions suite provider Zoho has released a new browser called Ulaa that is specifically designed with privacy-conscious users in mind and programmed to block the various trackers and ads that characterize the modern Internet.

The browser, which is free to download, derives its name from a Tamil word meaning travel or journey.

In addition to blocking deceptive ads, pop-ups, URL tracking and cookies, the browser also protects against malware. Ulaa users can also filter third-party widgets and notifications, social media widgets, and prevent websites from using the local device to mine cryptocurrency. In fact, websites cannot access the local device or network at all.

The browser does not monitor or share user data with third parties. While he collects some information, it’s used entirely to improve the user experience versus tracking information about a specific user, according to Subita Deb, browser technical lead for Zoho. In addition, users can choose not to send certain sets of data by changing their browser settings. Any crash reports are only stored on the user’s local device, so the user has the option to submit one.

As another layer of protection, Ulaa also disables DNS prefetching, a technique used by web browsers to proactively resolve domain names (DNS lookups) for resources on a web page before they are actually needed. However, these requests can potentially leak information about a user’s browsing activity, including the websites they visit, to third-party DNS resolvers or other network monitors.

However, the core of the browser’s privacy protection lies in its “Multi-ID” model. Deb said that other privacy-focused browsers work by trying to hide user information, but by triangulating the still-visible information, trackers can infer the nature of that hidden data through “shadows.” In contrast, the “multi-ID” model works by randomly sampling data, making it difficult for trackers to build a complete user profile.

This model is coupled with “fingerprint blocking”, which prevents websites from collecting unique information about a user’s device. Fingerprinting is typically done by creating a unique ID for a user and tracking their activity on sites without the need for cookies. Ulaa blocks such fingerprinting by randomizing or standardizing data.

Deb said that by combining these two things, users’ anonymity is protected even from Ulaa himself.

“In simpler terms, for a tracker, a user will either look like everyone else everywhere, or will always be unique on every website,” Deb said.

Finally, the browser also allows users to switch between five different modes:

  • custom (general default);
  • work (referring to dedicated work functions);
  • Developer (for professional web developers and testers);
  • Kids (family-friendly mode with native content filtering); and,
  • Open season (no privacy at all).

Ulaa will remember which sites were opened in which mode and reload pages when switching between modes. Each mode is completely isolated from one another, meaning that activities in one cannot be linked to activities in another.

Zoho employees were actually using Ulaa internally for several years before it was published, according to Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist. It was launched in 2020 as a stripped-down version that allowed developers to work in a secure environment. As time went on, they added features to further improve the experience, until one day Zoho realized they had a complete product on their hands. A beta version was released in 2022, followed by a full public release in 2023.

Although the Ulaa browser is a Zoho product, Vegesna said it will live on as a separate product from the company’s core suite of business applications. Ulaa represents not so much a value addition to Zoho’s suite as a new direction for the company.

“Ulaa is for end users, not just Zoho users. We envision it to be the default browser for users who want their browsing experience protected from tracking, profiling and surveillance,” he said. He added that while there are other privacy-focused browsers on the market, the new browser comes from a company that has already built privacy into its culture (he cited the company’s privacy promise as an example). With that in mind, he felt people feel more confident because the drive to develop a privacy-based browser aligns with the company’s overall mission.

Zoho Corp. We have always been a privacy conscious company and our business model is not based on ad revenue and therefore we neither track nor share user data,” he said.

He added that Ulaa is and will remain free for end users. While there are no plans to monetize it yet, he said Zoho expects enterprises to adopt the browser with a privacy-focused approach, and as the product evolves, the company will consider monetization to offer additional value on top of the enterprise plan. .

He cited the speed with which Ulaa releases security patches (in just 24 hours), its statistical anonymization, its automatic ID reset, its geographic data isolation, and its end-to-end encrypted synchronization as differentiating factors from other browsers.

At the same time, he pushed back on the idea that Zoho is entering the “browser wars” and trying to directly compete with players like Chrome or Firefox.

“We don’t want to be in any kind of war. We just think we can provide users with a good choice for a privacy-focused browser, with great productivity add-ons, supported by a sustainable ad-based business model, which we think is a rare delivery in the current market,” he said.

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