Firefox 42 Blocks Tracking Ads, Enhances Private Browsing - InformationWeek

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Commentary
11/4/2015
05:06 PM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Commentary
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Firefox 42 Blocks Tracking Ads, Enhances Private Browsing

Mozilla's Firefox 42 includes advanced protection against tracking ads, analytics trackers, and social share buttons.

9 Ways To Bulletproof Your Privacy Policy
9 Ways To Bulletproof Your Privacy Policy
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Mozilla rolled out its latest version of the Firefox browser (v42) on Nov. 3 with a new feature that actively blocks anything that tracks you online, including ads and social share buttons. Firefox 42 also includes patches for some security vulnerabilities.

The new feature called Tracking Protection is only enabled when the user is in Private Browsing mode. It continues Firefox's focus on privacy.

"With the release of Tracking Protection in Firefox Private Browsing we are leading the industry by giving you control over the data that third parties receive from you online. No other browser's Private Browsing mode protects you the way Firefox does -- not Chrome, not Safari, not Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer," vice president of the Firefox product Nick Nguyen wrote on the Firefox blog

Nguyen went on in his statement to explain in further detail what the process will do for users.

"Private Browsing with Tracking Protection in Firefox for Windows, Mac, Android and Linux actively blocks content like ads, analytics trackers and social share buttons that may record your behavior without your knowledge across sites," Nguyen wrote.

In the video that accompanies the announcement he says, "You might notice that some web pages load more quickly with tracking protection. We don't think you'll mind."

Firefox has an add-on mechanism that has already been used by others like AdBlock Plus and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Privacy Badger to extend the browser's functionality into this kind of blocking.

Firefox Screenshot before Tracking Protection
(Image: Larry Loeb)

Firefox Screenshot before Tracking Protection

(Image: Larry Loeb)

Firefox Screenshot after Tracking Protection
(Image: Larry Loeb)

Firefox Screenshot after Tracking Protection

(Image: Larry Loeb)

But Firefox is taking a different approach than a typical ad blocker. Firefox looks only for those elements (whether ads or other things) that perform user-tracking and then blocks them.

Having this feature readily available inside the browser can only increase adoption. It may be that this feature will introduce tracking blocker privacy to those that have not yet acquired the add-on extensions. The feature might even give users a reason to migrate to Firefox as their go-to browser, since it differentiates Firefox from other browsers.

"We look forward to seeing other browsers and mobile platforms follow in Firefox's footsteps. We hope that this will also send a strong message to advertisers -- if you track users nonconsensually, you're not welcome on the Net," according to an EFF statement about the release of Tracking Protection in Firefox.

To initiate tracking protection, you call up a new secure browsing window. The window comes up saying that it is activated, and it will not save history, searches, cookies, or temporary files. It does save downloads and bookmarks.

[Read Google Contributor: an Ad-Blocking Alternative.]

There is a shield icon in the left side of the URL box that confirms that you are in the correct mode. Clicking on it also confirms that it is active, and displays a button to turn the tracking off for the session. You can also access most commands through the Control Center menu at the top right of the browser bar.

Also included in Firefox 42 are security patches.

Mozilla engineers uncovered two flaws (CVE-2015-7181 and CVE-2015-7182) in NSS (which is a toolkit used by Firefox to encrypt web traffic over SSL/TLS) that could have allowed the installation of malware and an integer overflow bug (CVE-2015-7183) in NSPR, which is a component of NSS that could have done the same thing if exploited.

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet ... View Full Bio
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larryloeb
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larryloeb,
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11/7/2015 | 7:43:22 AM
Re: Slow Firefox
@Li

I haven't run into that.

What kinds of display problems are you seeing? Is it some sort of CSS quirk?
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
11/7/2015 | 1:40:19 AM
Re: Slow Firefox
Echo your comments - slowness is one problem but I found that some advanced internet features are not supported well on FF, which made the page rendered ugly or behave in a strange way.
larryloeb
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larryloeb,
User Rank: Author
11/6/2015 | 1:44:39 PM
Re: I hate to admit that I peruse celebrity gossip sites, but ......
Now, what *I* do in those situations is type in the postal/zip code. Works fine.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
11/6/2015 | 1:41:58 PM
Re: I hate to admit that I peruse celebrity gossip sites, but ......
On a desktop PC, it is relatively easy to click the "No" button followed by typing in a city's names. And, most PCs do not have GPS -- an IP address can identify a user's city but, the location can be incorrect at times. Mobile devices enable accurate reporting and clicking "Yes" would save a few steps of a user i.e. the keyboard interface would not need to be called upon and the user would not have to type on a 2.5" interface.
larryloeb
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larryloeb,
User Rank: Author
11/6/2015 | 1:20:52 PM
Re: I hate to admit that I peruse celebrity gossip sites, but ......
You lost me Brian.

I don't see what they keyboard has to do with it.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
11/6/2015 | 12:05:51 PM
Re: I hate to admit that I peruse celebrity gossip sites, but ......
Agreed, users have a high level of respect for websites and software that play it fair/transparent. For instance, AccuWeather prompts a user if they would like to share their location with the website and users select yes especially, if the user is on a mobile device. This enables the website to automatically display the weather results of the user's current city. However, I wonder if the same would apply if the ergonomics of the mobile keyboard was to drastically improve. 
larryloeb
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larryloeb,
User Rank: Author
11/6/2015 | 10:14:04 AM
Re: Firefox 42 Blocks Tracking Ads, Enhances Private Browsing
Firefox has taken it from "it's an ad! Block it!" to "It's tracking me!" and that is a very different matter.

Tracking gives marketers information about customer behavior. That tracking can be controlled easily by the user now in Firefox. This is a GoodThing.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
11/6/2015 | 8:57:00 AM
Re: Firefox 42 Blocks Tracking Ads, Enhances Private Browsing
This very much seems relevant to a somewhat lengthy conversation you and I were having in the comments to one of your other articles, Larry. Advertisers (and service providers) are going no holds barred in an effort to maximize the data they can glean out of users, but consumers have some options to fight back as well. If they want to play dirty with their ads, they may be denied ad revenue altogether.

There's a certain cadre of users that make a point of disabling their ad blockers when viewing content from providers they like or trust to support them. Further still, great orgs like Firefox and the EFF are championing consumer rights and offering more sensible compromise options. It seems these things have a way of checking and balancing each other while we await potential future litigation on the matter.
larryloeb
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larryloeb,
User Rank: Author
11/5/2015 | 7:15:45 PM
Re: I like cookies
Well, yes.

But having history active can affect your privacy.

So, when casually browsing just don't turn private browsing on.

Ad Block Plus works on Firefox if you just want that. That won't turn history off.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
11/5/2015 | 6:01:35 PM
Re: I like cookies
I agree. Many is the time I go to a url and find it useful. Later, if I want to go back to it and if I haven't made it a bookmark or otherwise noted it, I'd be stuck without "history".
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