Privacy Browser 2.7.2

Privacy Browser 2.7.2 has been released. The impetus for this release is a fix for a problem that prevented 2.7 and 2.7.1 from being built on F-Droid. Slightly before the release of 2.7, Android Studio was upgraded from 2.x to 3.0. This upgrade changed the way the Gradle build system plugins integrate with Android Studio. Previously, the build plugins were downloaded manually using the SDK download manager. With the release of 3.0 this was switched to using a Maven repository specified in the Gradle build files that pulled the necessary files from Google’s server at build time. The instructions on some of Google’s websites were incomplete, resulting in a build.gradle file that worked for my local build system but didn’t work for the F-Droid server.

Two features that were planned for the 2.8 release are included in 2.7.2 as they are already complete and there is no reason to make people wait. The first feature is an options menu item for adding/editing the domain settings for the current domain. This option is placed at the top of the menu.

The second feature is support for opening telephone links in the system dialer. The number is passed to the Android OS with a request that whatever app is the default dialer receive it. The dialer displays the telephone number on the screen but does not call it until the user presses a button. Previously, tapping on telephone number links in Privacy Browser would produce an error.

Privacy Browser 2.7.1

Privacy Browser 2.7.1 has been released. It fixes a crash in version 2.7 when editing a bookmark in the new bookmarks drawer. This crash was introduced late in the development cycle after I had finished testing this feature. It was kindly pointed out by a user shortly after 2.7 was released.

Privacy Browser 2.7

Privacy Browser 2.7 has been released. The bookmarks are now accessible from a DrawerLayout on the right of the screen:

Tapping on a bookmark will load it. Long-pressing on a bookmark will open an edit dialog. As can be seen from the screenshot, there is now a create folder floating action button above the create bookmark button. The top floating action button opens the bookmarks activity.

A number of improvements have been made to the bookmarks activity. Moving bookmarks is now much more efficient, which should remove the delay that was previously experienced. The bookmarks display order is now updated upon deletion of a bookmark, which keeps new bookmarks from being created in the middle of the list after a number of bookmarks have been deleted. A number of action buttons in the dialog boxes are now disabled if there is no action for them to perform.

The “move to folder” icon is now an arrow inside of a folder. Previously it was a star inside of a folder.

Deleting bookmarks rapidly used to confuse Privacy Browser (because it waits until the Snackbar is dismissed before processing the delete). The delete menu item is now momentarily disabled until the previous delete has processed. When bookmarks are deleted and then undeleted, they are now reselected. Privacy Browser is now more sophisticated about scrolling the screen when moving bookmarks. Previously it would lock the bookmark being scrolled five items from the top of the screen. Now it lets the bookmark float naturally through the screen and scrolls when the bookmark reaches the top or bottom.

In the bookmarks database view, it is now possible to filter the bookmarks by folder. The database view will become more important when bookmarks can be imported and exported. Although there should never be any problems® with the bookmarks database, the database view provides a powerful repair tool when they do happen.

It is now also possible to edit bookmarks from the database view.

Some improvements were made to Night Mode to eliminate the white flash that sometimes occurred when a new page was loaded. They keyboard is now hidden every time a new webpage is loaded.  Previously it was only hidden if the webpage was loaded from the URL box. The target API has been bumped to 26 (Android Oreo, 8.0.0) and the user agents have been updated. Konqueror was removed as one of the pre-configured user agents, as it is being discontinued and its replacement, Falkon, is not yet ready. The fastlane screenshots have been adjusted, so that hopefully they will finally work on F-Droid with this release.

The paragraph about Verizon’s tracking header has been removed from the Tracking IDs section of the Guide because, due to public pressure, Verizon no longer abuses their customers in this manner.

As usual, Francesco Buratti provided an updated Italian translation and Jose A. León Becerra provided an updated Spanish translation.

The next release will likely be the last in the first half of the 2.x series. The major planned feature is to switch the ad blocker to use EasyList.

Privacy Browser 2.6

Privacy Browser 2.6 has been released. There is a new night mode for rendering web pages. The night mode overrides certain CSS layout options to create an experience that works well on the majority of websites, especially when paired with the dark theme.

Injecting the custom CSS currently requires JavaScript to be enabled (obviously not desirable from a privacy perspective). When Privacy WebView is released as part of the 4.x series, it will become possible to modify the CSS of the website without enabling JavaScript.

While the website is loading, it is hidden and a dark gray background is displayed. The following CSS code is applied to the website after it has finished loading.

* {
    background-color: #212121 !important;
    color: #BDBDBD !important;
    box-shadow: none !important;
    text-decoration: none !important;
    text-shadow: none !important;
    border: none !important;
}

"a {
    color: #1565C0 !important;
}

* formats all elements with the following characteristics. background-color: #212121 sets a dark gray background. color: #BDBDBD sets the text to be a light gray. box-shadow: none removes a form of underline that some websites use for links. text-decoration: none removes the standard underline used for links. text-shadow: none removes text shadows (which don’t often match well against the dark background). border: none removes borders around text and other objects.

a formats links. color: #1565C0 sets the text color to be a dark blue.

!important overrides any more specific directives that may exist unless they also have the !important tag.

Feel free to contact me if there are other CSS attributes that would improve night mode. I am generally inclined to only include tags that work across a large range of websites. After the CSS is applied, there is a 500 millisecond delay before the WebView is displayed. In my testing that is sufficient time for the night mode CSS to be rendered and prevents the brief flashing of a white background when the site is first displayed. However, the time may need to be increased for some devices, especially those with slower processors.

The About and Guide activities have been reworked so that the dark theme displays them in the same way that night mode displays normal websites.

It is now possible to visit websites that require HTTP authentication.

The View SSL Certificate dialog now color codes the Domain and the Common Name. If they match the text will be blue. If they do not match it will be red.

Francesco Buratti provided an updated Italian translation and Jose A. León Becerra provided an updated Spanish translation.

The next release of Privacy Browser will feature several refinements to the bookmarks interface.

 

User Agent Problems

Some websites don’t work well if they don’t recognize the user agent. Much has been written about how browser detection is a flawed system, but some websites still do it. For Privacy Browser, this means that if the default user agent of PrivacyBrowser/1.0 is used, some aspects of certain websites won’t work because the web server doesn’t have PrivacyBrowser/1.0 on the list of user agents that it knows can run a specific feature, so the webserver doesn’t even try to do it, even though Privacy Browser is perfectly capable of handling the feature.

So, for example, neweggbusiness.com doesn’t allow the user to log on if the user agent is PrivacyBrowser/1.0. Also, the Google Play Console doesn’t layout correctly if it doesn’t recognize the user agent.

PrivacyBrowser/1.0

WebView Default

PrivacyBrowser/1.0

WebView Default

Setting a user agent in domain settings that the website recognizes, like WebView Default, resolves the issue.

Privacy Browser 2.5

Privacy Browser 2.5 has been released. It adds support for SSL certificate pinning in the domain settings. There is also a new Guide tab to explain the feature, which contains the following text:

When visiting an encrypted URL (one that begins with HTTPS), the webserver uses an SSL certificate to both encrypt the information sent to the browser and to identify the server. The purpose of the server identification is to prevent a machine located between the browser and the webserver from pretending to be the server and decrypting the information in transit. This type of attack is known as a Man In The Middle (MITM) attack. SSL certificates are generated by certificate authorities: companies that verify a server’s identity and produce a certificate for a fee. Android has a list of trusted certificate authorities, and will accept any of their certificates for any website. It isn’t supposed to be possible for an organization to acquire an SSL certificate for a domain they do not control, but in practice many governments and large corporations have been able to do so.

The purpose of SSL certificate pinning is to tell the browser that only one specific SSL certificate is to be trusted for a particular domain. Any other certificate, even if it is valid, will be rejected.

SSL certificates expire on a specified date, so even pinned SSL certificates will legitimately need to be updated from time to time. As a general rule, pinning SSL certificates probably isn’t needed in the majority of cases. But for those who suspect that powerful organizations may be targeting them, SSL certificate pinning can detect and thwart a MITM attack.

SSL certificates can be pinned in Domain Settings. Besides protecting against MITM attacks, pinning a self-signed certificate for a device like a wireless router or access point will remove the error message that is normally presented every time its website is loaded.

Searx.me was added to the list of default search engines, and the list was reorganized so that the privacy conscious search engines are listed before the others.

The default homepage has been updated to https://duckduckgo.com/?kao=-1&kak=-1, which works with both JavaScript enabled or disabled. This change will only affect new installations of Privacy Browser. Current users can chose to update their homepage if desired. The Onion site, https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion, is still broken when using the center search box unless JavaScript is enabled. Those who use this functionality might consider adding their voices to the Reddit thread on this topic.

A bug was fixed that caused the website title to be lost on rotate (and in some other circumstances). The website title is used when sharing a URL.

The options menu now indicates (via ghosting) if there is any DOM storage data that can be cleared. Previously, the entry was always enabled because WebView does not provide an easy way to tell if DOM storage data exists.

In the previous release, unencrypted websites were highlighted with a bold, red “http://” at the beginning of the URL. At the request of a user, the bold was removed and it is now just red text.

A bug was fixed that caused a URL to fail to load if a custom domain user agent was applied and the website performed a redirect on load. Another bug was fixed that caused changes a the website (like the sorting of a list) to be lost if Privacy Browser was moved to the background or otherwise restarted. Many small improvements were made to the Domains activity that should provide a smoother user experience.

Francesco Buratti provided an updated Italian translation and Jose A. León Becerra provided an updated Spanish translation.

The next release of Privacy Browser will enable HTTP authentication requests and implement a night mode.

DuckDuckGo Search Problems

There is currently a problem with searching using the search box in the center of the screen on both https://start.duckduckgo.com and https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion when JavaScript is disabled.

Searching from the URL bar works correctly. I have reported this bug to DuckDuckGo in two places. If they are not able to fix it soon I may have to do something different with the default homepage.

In the meantime, users can work around the problem by using https://duckduckgo.com as the homepage if JavaScript is disabled, or using a domain setting to enable JavaScript for *.duckduckgo.com or 3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion.

Privacy Browser 2.4

Privacy Browser 2.4 has been released. It adds a dark theme option. Originally I planned to do a completely black theme for AMOLED devices. However, as I worked on it, I didn’t like the way the black theme looked. Instead, I decided to go with a dark theme, which works well in low light scenarios.

If there is significant demand, I would consider adding a black theme as a third option. However, the effort to create and maintain the theme is significant, especially when supporting earlier versions of Android, which don’t allow tinting of certain icons, requiring separate drawables for each theme. I think the power saving difference on an AMOLED screen between the dark theme and a black theme is not likely to be significant enough to justify the effort.

Because of the way Android is (currently) designed, Privacy Browser has to be restarted for a change in theme to take effect.

The domain name is now printed in black while the rest of the text is printed in gray.

For websites that aren’t encrypted, the “http://” is displayed in red, bold text. Unencrypted websites are very bad for privacy, and in this day and age there is no excuse to run an unencrypted webserver, so whenever you visit a website that is unencrypted it is a warning to you that the website operators don’t understand what they are doing or don’t take your privacy seriously.

Settings were added to control what happens on Clear and Exit. If all of these are disabled, Clear and Exit will close Privacy Browser but leave all data intact.

The default homepage on new installs was changed to https://start.duckduckgo.com. When JavaScript is enabled, https://duckduckgo.com now has an annoying popup that appears every time cookies are deleted. Note that there is a bug in https://start.duckduckgo.com and https://3g2upl4pq6kufc4m.onion that cause JavaScript-disabled searches to fail. If DuckDuckGo isn’t able to fix this problem soon I may have to do something else with the default homepage.

When clearing cookies, DOM storage, or form data from the options menu, the snackbar now has an undo option.

A bug was fixed that caused pending webpage changes to be lost on restart. Also, a problem with the spinner layout on some Huawei devices was fixed.

An updated Italian translation was provided by Francesco Buratti and an updated Spanish translation was provided by Jose A. León Becerra.

The major planned feature for the next release is SSL certificate pinning.

Privacy Browser 2.3

Privacy Browser 2.3 has been released. It fixes a longstanding bug that caused redirects to be included in the WebView history. This made it difficult to use the back button to return to the previous website if there was one (or more) redirects that led to the current page.

A feature has been added to disable the loading of images to conserve bandwidth. There is a general system settings, an on-the-fly setting, and controls in domain settings.

The WebView has been changed to use a wide viewport, which fixes the layout of some web pages. For example, prior to the fix, XKCD comics would extend beyond the viewable area of the page.

It is now possible to load host only URLs. Previously, if the URL text box did not contain a FQDN (Fully Qualified Domain Name) or the word localhost a search would be performed. With this change any text that begins with http:// or https:// will be loaded as a URL. This removes the previous behavior of loading any text that contained localhost as a URL, which means that a search can now be performed from the URL text box that contains the term localhost.

The settings activity now contains icons next to each preference, which in many cases change color based on the status of the item.

The web page title is now prepended to the URL when shared through the options menu. The third-party cookies preference is now disabled on KitKat in the settings activity because it only works on Lollipop or newer. It had previously been hidden from the options menu and domain settings. Refresh has been moved to the bottom of the options menu to make it easier to find.

As usual, an updated Italian translation was provided by Francesco Buratti and an updated Spanish translation was provided by Jose A. León Becerra.

The next release of Privacy Browser will contain a dark theme option as well as several other features from the high priority list.