Should You Use Proxy Browsers? (like Opera Mini)

Opera’s leading mobile browser, Opera Mini, has a large user base. According to the latest StatCounter.com stats, it is the third most popular mobile browser in the world with almost 20% market share. Surprisingly, Opera Mini (along with the Opera Mobile) has just 2% market share in US, which hints towards the real reason of its popularity in other countries.

There are two main reasons behind the popularity of this little browser application: Availability across multiple platforms (including Java, Android, Symbian, iOS etc.) and its Server-side compression technology. With this mobile optimized technology, Opera Mini reduces the data size by up to 90% and hence users get a faster browsing experience even on slower internet connections. This is an important feature of Opera Mini which makes it quite popular in developing countries like India.  In fact, Opera Mini uses OBML to render web pages on users’ devices – which makes it possible to properly render web pages on feature phones and incapable devices.

Apart from the server-side compression, another important feature of Opera Mini is its encrypted connection.

opera-mini-data-compression

Opera Mini is not the only one

Opera Mini is not the only browser offering server-side compression technology to deliver faster browsing experience. Chrome on Android also offers data compression feature which is disabled by default. Mozilla is working on server-side data compression feature for Firefox on Android. There are tons of other browsers available across all leading platforms, for example UC Browser, Nokia’s browser for S40 devices, Puffin browser, Tencent’s QQ browser and iBrowser etc. Amazon’s Silk browser for Kindle Fire also uses some sort of server-side optimizations.

These proxy browsers look awesome. After all, they are helping users in many ways: Faster browsing on slower networks, desktop-like rendering on feature phones and encrypted connection. For the server-side compression, the companies behind these browsers spend big money on setting up servers and data centers. Surprisingly, all of these browsers are totally free (except some small ones like Puffin).

Should You Use Them?

For the server-side optimizations, these browsers don’t connect users directly to the targeted websites. All requests are first sent to their own servers where the information is decoded and forwarded to the original targeted server. Similarly, received information is processed on company’s servers before sending to the end users. This sounds pretty strange and dangerous. Your all web traffic is routed through third-party servers which process all the data before forwarding to you. In other words, your information is completely visible and accessible to these companies even for secured/encrypted sites like PayPal. These companies may use your information for any undisclosed purpose.

Moreover, these browsers also break end-to-end encryption used for sending highly sensitive information like bank details etc.

(PS: We love, recommend and trust Opera.)

Posted by Arpit Kumar on March 1, 2014.

Arpit Kumar is a web enthusiast watching browsers for long. He maintains several open-sourced browser-based tools including many popular extensions. Follow Arpit on Twitter, or email him at arpit[@]browsernative.com.

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