New Free Web Browser Offers Built-In VPN Features, Browse Privately Even in China

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I recently wrote about my experiences accessing the internet while in China and using VPN software to get all the sites I wanted, including US social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, bypassing the government’s “Great Firewall.”

By the way using your phone in roaming mode bypasses the firewall as well.

My hotel’s wifi (unsurprisingly) blocked access to Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I was able to access my blog. I fired up one of the VPNs I had set up before entering the country and had no problem getting the internet I wanted.

It turns out there’s an even simpler solution, and cheaper than using the VPN service I was paying for (free, in fact).

Cocoon web browser is a free download. It’s based on Firefox and offers the capabilities of a VPN built in. That way you can privately access content from anywhere in the world. You’re accessing their servers and their servers are calling the sites you want and delivering them to you.

You’re also protected when you’re using unsecured networks like in airports or coffee shops. They explain,

We are better than a VPN because our browser is completely self-contained and doesn’t transmit any unique, identifiable information. The browser communicates only with Cocoon servers, based in the US. This makes you a part of our cloud, handling requests, and shielding your identity. so websites only see our proxy cloud instead of your IP and location. On top of that, nothing is stored in the cloud, so it vanishes altogether after a session.

Android versions will be coming out shortly, and iOS over the summer.

You can use a free VPN if you want, this will be faster. You can use a paid VPN if you want, this is cheaper.

Just How Secure Is This?

Even VPNs aren’t completely secure. The VPN gets access to whatever browsing you do, even if no one else can see it.

In this case since they control the web browser too they’ve got pre-encryption access to your web traffic also. If the browser were open source we might know exactly what it was doing with your traffic. In this case we have to take their word for it that they don’t do anything malicious.

Here’s what they tell me,

In order to protect users against viruses and malicious content, the pre-encrypted traffic scans the content on a programmatic level.

The browser is based off open source (firefox), but the browser it self isn’t open source.

Other than our software protecting against viruses or malicious known sites (blacklisting), we do not have any access to the data. All user data is encrypted in our database and all traffic logged is stripped of any identifiable user details in real-time (IP addresses, URLs, etc.).

This is Too Good to Be True. If It’s Free, How Do They Make Money?

Since a company representative in touting their wares warned about free VPNs suggesting they make money selling your data (“free ones are also typically selling on your data, so definitely shouldn’t be recommended!”), you can imagine I wanted to know how these folks make money (why shouldn’t you watch out for them for the same reason).

In other words, surely they can’t be earning money the way that Saturday Night Live‘s First CityWide Bank of Change does — losing money on each transaction but making it up in volume.

Here’s how they describe their model,

  • Advertising They say they serve ads “that can’t track/identify users.”

  • Premium ad-free version They offer a Cocoon+ product and downloading the free product is how they’ll market you an upgrade.

  • Affiliate commissions for online shopping. They are launching ‘Cocoon Club’ which provides rebates to you for your online shopping. It’s like an online shopping portal site like eBates or the AAdvantage shopping mall. That side earns a commission and then rebates part of that commission to you. They’re going to offer the same thing in-browser, rebating 70% – 80% of the commissions.

Ultimately I am probably old school enough to prefer to pay for the VPN service I know works and that delivers good speeds. However many people will prefer this free faster browser-based option over a free VPN.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Grandpa, so you’re suggesting downloading a fairly unknown browser rather than say add a VPN plug-in to chrome (available for freeeeeeeeeeeeeee)?

  2. It’s absolutely not true that roaming bypasses the great firewall. Roaming phones will not immediately be blocked. However, somewhere between 1-3 days later your phone will be blocked same as any other device. If you are in the PRC for a quick meeting, this will be fine. If you are going on a longer vacation, you need to have a few VPNs ready to keep your access to gmail, maps, and social media.

  3. Remember Opera? They are still around I use it. It’s built on Chrome now so everything is compatible. They have had built in ad blocker, and vpn for a few years now. I don’t use the VPN as there is a latency hit, but the feature is there.

  4. While touted as a VPN, Opera’s browser isn’t really a VPN, it’s a proxy. Better than nothing, but not that great.

  5. What is to stop the Chinese authorities monitoring the DNS servers and just blocking the associated IP addresses?

  6. Agree with Jack. Switched from google to Opera across all devices. Use the VPN with no lag time. Happy with it.

  7. Don’t do it.

    Based off an open source browser and they’ve made their version closed source. Only reason to do that is they’re hiding something.

    There’s a reason every reputable encryption protocol in the world is open source.

    Stick with a paid VPN for now.

  8. Not sure I trust this. How does it compare to VPNs like ExpressVPN (which i’ve also used in China)?

  9. So sad what this blog has become…

    This is one of the few blog posts I’ve seen here recently that doesn’t read like the National Enquirer, and it is just a paid advertisement for a really crappy product that should not be promoted.

    Years ago, this was a go-to place for useful info. Now it’s just a sad collection of click-bait headlines and trashy sensationalism. At least it still has the same bad grammar…

  10. According to my son, who is a specialist in the computer security of an online business, I received the following when I asked his advice about this. After his response, it’s a no-go area for me.

    “I wouldn’t touch that thing with a pole.

    It’s been around since at least 2011[1] and keeps changing what it’s supposed to be about, from being a Firefox VPN extension to doing antivirus scanning[2] (which you _really_ don’t want in a browser, for security reasons) and seems pretty bad at it[3]. Now it’s back to being for private browsing, but it’s built on some older version of Firefox (using out-of-date browser code is very bad) and it’s got ads built in.

    The scariest part is the commissions for online shopping, which means that whatever they’ve got on the other side is actually looking through the sites you visit — do you want some random dude in Colorado having access to all your banking info?


  11. China is one of the strict countries that do not allow people to access to multiple websites, I really appreciate the information provided as the built-in VPN will help people gain rather more information than necessary.

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