If you aren’t using an ad blocker, you may have noticed that when you surf the web you see ads for products or services you had looked at online. It’s annoying at best, creepy even, but Mozilla, the creator of the Firefox browser, hopes to change that with three new initiatives to stop unwanted tracking. Firefox users will see the new features over the next few months.
“In the near future, Firefox will – by default – protect users by blocking tracking while also offering a clear set of controls to give our users more choice over what information they share with sites,” said Nick Nguyen in an August 30 blog post.
The changes include the following:
- Improved page load performance: Tracking slows down the web and long page load times annoy web users. To reduce this, Firefox Nightly will include a feature that blocks trackers that slow down page loads. Mozilla will begin testing this in September. If the tests go well, this feature will be included by default in the Firefox 63 release.
- Removal of cross-site tracking: Most users don’t get the level of privacy they expect or deserve on the web, says Mozilla, and oftentimes, web users are “followed” online from one site to the next with cookies. To help improve the user experience, Firefox will strip cookies and block storage access from third-party trackers. This is also being tested by Firefox Nightly users in September, and Mozilla hopes to include this feature in Firefox 65. The company says it will continue to refine its approach to provide web users with “the strongest possible protection while preserving a smooth user experience.”
- Mitigating harmful practices: Mozilla says that deceptive practices that collect identifiable user information like “fingerprinting” or mining of cryptocurrency on devices are becoming more common. To stop such behavior, future versions of Firefox will block such practices by default.
In Nguyen’s blog post, he explains why Mozilla is tacking this approach.
“This is about more than protecting users – it’s about giving them a voice. Some sites will continue to want user data in exchange for content, but now they will have to ask for it, a positive change for people who up until now had no idea of the value exchange they were asked to make. Blocking pop-up ads in the original Firefox release was the right move in 2004, because it didn’t just make Firefox users happier, it gave the advertising platforms of the time a reason to care about their users’ experience. In 2018, we hope that our efforts to empower our users will have the same effect,” wrote Nguyen.
Users don’t have to wait for these features to go live in future versions of Firefox though. They can be part of the testing group through Firefox Nightly. From the Firefox Nightly Control Center menu, users can enable these features in the Content Blocking section.
The EU has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to protect personal data from European citizens from being tracked and used without express permission. While the U.S. doesn’t have this form of data privacy protection yet, companies like Mozilla are working toward similar goals. With its three-pronged strategy to protect users against tracking, Mozilla has made a commitment to improve the user experience while also protecting user data. We hope more companies will follow the trend, making the internet a safer and more enjoyable place to be.