For its 10th anniversary, the makers of torrent download site The Pirate Bay have launched a new Web browser that's designed to allow users to access sites blocked by governments. This includes the company's own site. Essentially a bundled package of the Tor Vidalia client and Firefox portable (with a foxyproxy add-on), the Pirate Browser promises to let you explore the farthest reaches of the Web without restrictions. But there's promises, and then there's reality.
Since it's simply a tweaked version of Firefox 23, Pirate Browser looks almost exactly like the regular Firefox browser, save for some small differences. The Pirate Browser logo is on the Menu button at the top left instead of the usual Firefox logo, and several sites are already listed on the bookmarks toolbar. These provide quick links to popular torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay, EZTV, IsoHunt and BitSnoop.
Instead of Google as the default search engine, Pirate Browser uses defaultsear.ch, which has been known to automatically change your search engine and homepage to defaultsear.ch, and may collect your search terms. You can install an add-on to replace the default search bar with Bing, but we weren't able to find an add-on for Google.
While you can still access browser settings by typing "about:config" into the URL bar, some of the features cannot be edited. We tried accessing "keyword.url," which changes the default search engine used by the URL bar in Firefox, but couldn't find it on Pirate Browser.
Pirate Browser also offers additional privacy settings in its Options window, allowing you to either tell sites whether you want to be tracked, or not tell them anything at all. In Firefox, your only choice is toggling the option to "Tell websites I do not want to be tracked."
Pirate Browser's makers are careful to warn that the browser will not allow you to surf the net anonymously. Instead, the browser is supposed to help you circumvent "the censoring / blocking of websites your government doesn't want you to know about." In many cases, this means the Pirate Bay's site itself.
We put this claim to the test, getting our friends in Singapore to attempt to access government-blocked sites with Pirate Browser. They were unable to access restricted sites such as YouPorn and Redtube, seeing the same government warnings on those sites as they did on other browsers.
However, we had greater success in the U.S. After our administrator temporarily blocked access to torrent site Fenopy.se, we were unable to access the page on Chrome, but could view it on Pirate Browser. However, Pirate Browser did not get around a block on Games.com.
While it's not designed for this purpose, we also attempted to watch an episode of "Dragon's Den" using BBC's iPlayer, which is only open to U.K.-based visitors. Unfortunately, the site detected our location and blocked access to the episode. The same happened when we tried to watch full episodes on CBS.com on a Time Warner Cable Internet connection.
The freedom to access any site is an idea we find admirable, and while the Pirate Bay's Pirate Browser may be somewhat self-serving, we can appreciate its ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the Pirate Browser doesn't fully deliver. You would be much better off installing the Tor browser bundle. That software not only allows you to get around IP blocks, but also hides your tracks when you surf the Web.