Want to browse the internet without being censored by your government, your ISP, or even your company firewall? ‘PirateBrowser’ may be what you need. Released by torrent indexing service ‘the Pirate Bay’, PirateBrowser is designed to give regular users access to censored content, but note that it is not designed to provide anonymous browsing and not designed to provide anonymous torrent downloads.
PirateBrowser is a portable implementation of the TOR network combined with a portable version of Firefox and the ‘FoxyProxy’ add-on. It cobbles together browser technology that has been freely available for a long time into one easy to use package, convenient in that (a) it is completely portable and can be carried around and launched only if and when you need it, and (b) unlike other implementations of TOR, it will leave your original Firefox install untouched, to be used as per normal when and if you want to use it.
There are probably many questions that user might want to know about this or other implementations of the TOR network, of which we will address four : (1) What is TOR? (2) How well does PirateBrowser work?, (3) can it provide anonymous torrent downloads?, and (4) can it circumvent the geo restrictions imposed by some services such as Spotify or Pandora?
(1) What is TOR: it is short for ‘The Onion Router’, and is, in a nutshell, a “free, worldwide volunteer network consisting of more than three thousand relays” (per Wikipedia). A request is routed through several successive points, chosen at random, and encrypted at each turn on its way both back and forth. This makes it extremely hard to trace and monitor the transactions that are taking place. TOR in theory can be implemented on top of any browser.
(2) How well does PirateBrowser work: the answer is yes, but make sure you know what it is intended to do; namely, to give you access to blocked sites, not provide anonymous browsing.
I tested this with my favorite VPN service (Tunnelbear), first by routing myself into a UK VPN, confirming that I could not access some torrent sites using my normal browser, and confirming that I was able to access those same sites using PirateBrowser.
Internet speed seems NOT to be affected. (See the ‘verdict’ section).
(3) can it provide anonymous torrent downloads? It won’t, and not in fact intended to do so, especially given that it doesn’t even deliver browsing anonymity. Moreover torrents do not use the same HTTP protocol that browsers do anyway.
But in this respect I have a question to readers at the end of the ‘verdict’ section below.
(4) can it circumvent the geo restrictions imposed by some services such as Spotify or Pandora? It cannot. Your geographic location will strangely be unchanged. A good way to think about it is that while PirateBrowser will let you browse and use sites that your government, ISP, or Firewall will prevent you from using, it will not let you access sites that themselves do not want you to access them (because of your geographic location, etc).
In any case if accessing geo-restricted sites is what you want, you can try a free VPN or, simply use my favorite Chrome extension ‘Media Hint‘ for the purpose that does a great job.
Ask yourself: is there content that I want to access that I cannot access normally from my browser?
If the answer is yes, then PirateBrowser is a great way to go around this. As long as you know it is not designed for anonymous browsing.
It is recommended insofar as it is completely portable, so nothing is installed on your system, and can be launched only when needed. It will also not take over your Firefox install, as some TOR implementations do, and will let you use your ‘normal’ Firefox as normal.
If the answer is no (there is nothing that you would like to access that is being censored, but you would like anonymous browsing, downloading, geo-restricted access, etc.), then PirateBrowser is NOT FOR YOU.
There seems to be no speed penalty for using PirateBrowser. We tested PirateBrowser and a normal browser (Chrome) using a speed measuring resource (speedtest.net), and both were comparable. In fact, PirateBrowser strangely came in a little faster (probably by chance, but the measurement confirmed that there is no visible or significant speed penalty for using PirateBrowser).