Firefox Sports New Tracking Protection for Private Browsing

Posted by at 2:48 pm on November 4, 2015

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Firefox now comes built-in with tracking protection currently offered by no other browser, including Chrome, Edge or Safari. The tracking protection is available for all platforms on which Firefox exists, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Android.

Firefox is usually considered the most privacy-sensitive browser out there because of its open source roots and ideals. It’s also the reason why the Tor Project preferred it over Chromium (which is mostly developed by Google) despite the fact that as of right now, Chromium and Chrome still have a better security architecture. However, Firefox is also supposed to get a partial sandboxing architecture in the near future, facilitated by the deprecating of the old and more intrusive add-on model.

Mozilla’s engineers showed earlier this year that when the Tracking Protection feature is enabled, it can reduce page load time by up to 44 percent. Therefore, it’s not just a privacy feature — it’s also a performance feature. Too many websites on the Web today include all sorts of trackers, which means tens or hundreds of third-party web requests can be made when the user tries to access a page, which slows loading times.

There is discussion right now in the advertising world about how to deal with the increasingly heavier ads on the Web, which also make pages much slower than they should be. This is part of the “Acceptable Ads” initiative that Google and others have joined, but there doesn’t seem to be any initiative for “acceptable tracking,” right now — at least not one supported by the advertisers.

The EFF and a few other groups has proposed new Do Not Track policies that set the ground rules for how tracking should work on the Web. Unlike the last time DNT was proposed and was completely optional for advertisers, the new DNT policies will be enforced by several anti-tracking tools that support them, including EFF’s Privacy Badger and Disconnect.

Firefox’s new Tracking Protection could also push advertisers to want to deal with this issue, too, just like increased ad-blocking is getting them to consider the “Acceptable Ads” initiative.

Safari could be next in line to get such tracking protection. Apple’s browser got a “Reader mode” a few years back, which would dispense of all ads and other elements on a page to clean it up and leave only the text. In that context, adding tracking protection seems like a smaller step that they could also take.

For now, Mozilla doesn’t allow this Tracking Protection to be enabled by default on Firefox. You can only enable it in the private browsing mode in the latest version of Firefox (v42). It’s still a big improvement, though, and if more people use it, the organization may allow it for regular browser windows, too.

Mozilla has also been supportive of the Tor Browser, and perhaps one day we could get a truly private browsing mode in Firefox by enabling Tor anonymity (which would be a much more powerful type of tracking protection).

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