Mozilla flips the default switch on Firefox tracker cookie blocking

From today Firefox users who update to the latest version of the browser will find a pro-privacy setting flipped for them on desktop and Android smartphones, assuming they didn’t already have the anti-tracking cookie feature enabled.

Mozilla launched the Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) feature in June as a default setting for new users — but leaving existing Firefox users’ settings unchanged at that point.

It’s now finishing what it started by flipping the default switch across the board in v69.0 of the browser.

The feature takes clear aim at third party cookies that are used to track Internet users for creepy purposes such as ad profiling. (Firefox relies on the Disconnect list to identify creepy cookies to block.)

The anti-tracking feature also takes aim at cryptomining: A background practice which can drain CPU and battery power, negatively impacting the user experience. Again, Firefox will now block cryptomining by default, not only when user activated.

In a blog post about the latest release Mozilla says it represents a “milestone” that marks “a major step in our multi-year effort to bring stronger, usable privacy protections to everyone using Firefox”.

“Currently over 20% of Firefox users have Enhanced Tracking Protection on. With today’s release, we expect to provide protection for 100% of ours users by default,” it predicts, underlining the defining power of default settings.

Firefox users with ETP enabled will see a shield icon in the URL bar to denote the tracker blocking is working. Clicking on this icon takes users to a menu where they can view a list of all the tracking cookies that are being blocked. Users are also able to switch off tracking cookie blocking on a per site basis, via this Content Blocking menu.

While blocking tracking cookies reduces some tracking of internet users it does not offer complete protection for privacy. Mozilla notes that ETP does not yet block browser fingerprinting scripts from running by default, for example.

Browser fingerprinting is another prevalent privacy-hostile technique that’s used to track and profile web users without knowledge or consent by linking online activity to a computer’s configuration and thereby tying multiple browser sessions back to the same device-user.

It’s an especially pernicious technique because it can erode privacy across browser sessions and even different browsers — which an Internet user might be deliberately deploying to try to prevent profiling.

A ‘Strict Mode’ in the Firefox setting can be enabled by Firefox users in the latest release to block fingerprinting. But it’s not on by default.

Mozilla says a future release of the browser will flip fingerprinting blocking on by default too.

The latest changes in Firefox continue Mozilla’s strategy — announced a year ago — of pro-actively defending its browser users’ privacy by squeezing the operational range of tracking technologies.

In the absence of a robust regulatory framework to rein in the outgrowth of the adtech ‘industrial data complex’ that’s addicted to harvesting Internet users’ data for ad targeting, browser makers have found themselves at the coal face of the fight against privacy-hostile tracking technologies.

And some are now playing an increasingly central — even defining role — as they flip privacy and anti-tracking defaults.

Notably, earlier this month, the open source WebKit browser engine, which underpins Apple’s Safari browser, announced a new tracking prevention policy that puts privacy on the same footing as security, saying it would treat attempts to circumvent this as akin to hacking.

Even Google has responded to growing pressure around privacy — announcing changes to how its Chrome browser handles cookies this May. Though it’s not doing that by default yet.

It has also said it’s working on technology to reduce fingerprinting. And recently announced a long term proposal to involve its Chromium browser engine in developing a new open standard for privacy.

Though cynics might suggest the adtech giant is responding to competitive pressure on privacy by trying to frame and steer the debate in a way that elides its own role in data mining Internet users at scale for (huge) profit.

Thus its tardy privacy pronouncements and long term proposals look rather more like an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass and buy time for Chrome to keep being used to undermine web users’ privacy — instead of Google being forced to act now and close down privacy-hostile practices that benefit its business.


Android – TechCrunch

Mozilla previews a redesigned and faster Firefox for Android

Mozilla today announced the first preview of a redesigned version of Firefox for Android that promises to be up to two times faster. The new version also introduces an easier to use and rather minimalist user interface, as well as support for collections, Mozilla’s new take on bookmarks. The new browser also features Firefox’s tracking protection, which is on by default. Over time, this preview will become the default Firefox for Android .

A few years ago, with Quantum, the Firefox team make a number of under-the-hood improvements to the browser’s core backend technologies. Now, it is doing something similar with GeckoView, Mozilla’s browser engine for Android. Implementing the technology the team developed for this in the browser now “paves the way for a complete makeover of the mobile Firefox experience,” the organization writes in today’s announcement.

“While all other major Android browsers today are based on Blink and therefore reflective of Google’s decisions about mobile, Firefox’s GeckoView engine ensures us and our users independence,” says the Firefox team. “Building Firefox for Android on GeckoView also results in greater flexibility in terms of the types of privacy and security features we can offer our mobile users.”

An early version of Firefox with GeckoView is now available for testing on Android under the Firefox Preview moniker. Mozilla notes that the user experience will sill change quite a bit before it is final.

Screenshot 20190627 081245When you first launch it, Preview opens up a new default experience that lets you sign in to a Firefox account, decide on whether you want a light or dark theme (or have the system switch automatically depending on the time of day), turn on privacy features and more.

One feature I really appreciate is that, by default, the preview puts the URL bar at the bottom of the screen, so that it’s within easy reach of your thumb. If you swipe up on the URL bar, you get both a share and bookmark icon, too. That takes some getting used to but quickly becomes second nature.

I haven’t run any formal benchmarks, but the preview definitely feels significantly snappier and smoother than any previews Firefox version on Android, up to the point where I wouldn’t hesitate to make it my default browser on mobile, especially given its built-in privacy features. I haven’t run into any hard crashes so far either, but this is obviously a beta version, so your mileage may vary.

For the rest of the year, the team will focus on optimizing the preview for all Android devices, but for now, it’s already worth a look if you’re looking to play with a new mobile browser on your Android device and not afraid of the occasional bug.

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Android – TechCrunch

Mozilla’s free password manager, Firefox Lockbox, launches on Android

Mozilla’s free password manager designed for users of the Firefox web browser is today officially arriving on Android. The standalone app, called Firefox Lockbox, offers a simple if a bit basic way for users to access their logins already stored in their Firefox browser from their mobile device.

The app is nowhere near as developed as password managers like 1Password, Dashlane, LastPass and others as it lacks common features like the ability to add, edit or delete passwords; suggest complex passwords; or alert you to potentially compromised passwords resulting from data breaches, among other things.

However, the app is free – and if you’re already using Firefox’s browser, it’s at the very least a more secure alternative to writing down your passwords into an unprotected notepad app, for example. And you can opt to enable Lockbox as an Autofill service on Android.

But the app is really just a companion to Firefox. The passwords in Lockbox securely sync to the app from the Firefox browser – they aren’t entered by hand. For security, the app can be locked with facial recognition or a fingerprint (depending on device support). The passwords are also encrypted in a way that doesn’t allow Mozilla to read your data, it explains in a FAQ.

Firefox Lockbox is now one of several projects Mozilla developed through its now-shuttered Test Flight program. Over a few years’ time, the program had allowed the organization to trial more experimental features – some of which made their way to official products, like the recently launched file sharing app, Firefox Send.

Others in the program – including Firefox Color⁩⁨Side View⁩⁨Firefox Notes⁩⁨Price Tracker⁩, and ⁨Email Tabs⁩ remain available, but are no longer actively developed beyond occasional maintenance releases. Mozilla’s current focus is on its suite of “privacy-first” solutions, not its other handy utilities.

According to Mozilla, Lockbox was downloaded over 50,000 times on iOS ahead of today’s Android launch.

The Android version is a free download on Google Play.


Android – TechCrunch

Firefox Focus adds support for enhanced tracking protection and Google’s Safe Browsing service

Firefox Focus for Android and iOS is Mozilla’s privacy-centric mobile browser. Today, the organization stepped up this promise of keeping its users’ data private by adding to the browser a few new features that expand on this by adding a new privacy feature, as well as a few other new tools.

The main new addition here is support for Enhanced Tracking Protection. This feature first launched in Firefox for the desktop. It allows you to block cookies and trackers with a bit more granularity than was previously possible. Until now, Focus blocked all cookies by default. Now, however, you can choose to either continue doing that — but with the risk of sites breaking every now and then — or opt to allow third-party cookies or only third-party tracking cookies. Mozilla uses Disconnect’s Tracking Protection list to power this feature.

“This enables you to allow cookies if they contribute to the user experience for a website while still preventing trackers from being able to track you across multiple sites, offering you the same products over and over again and recording your online behavior,” Mozilla explains.

Mozilla also today announced that Firefox Focus now checks all URLs against Google’s Safe Browsing service to ensure that users don’t click on known phishing links or open other fraudulent sites. While using a Google tool may seem a bit odd, given that Firefox and Chrome are competitors, it’s worth noting virtually every browser makes use of Safe Browsing (and that Mozilla pulls in a lot of revenue from its search engine deal with Google).

In addition, iOS users who opt for Firefox Focus will now be able to get search suggestions, too, just like their friends on Android . There’s a privacy trade-off here, though, as everything you’re typing is sent directly to the likes of Google for offering you those suggestions. Because the focus of this browser is privacy, the feature is turned off by default, though.


Android – TechCrunch

KaiOS, a feature phone platform built on the ashes of Firefox OS, adds Facebook, Twitter and Google apps

Mozilla called it a day with Firefox OS for mobile handsets back in 2015 and said it would test the waters for an IoT effort using some of the same technology (and it has). But that hasn’t spelled the complete end for the tech on mobile devices.

Quietly, a company called KaiOS, built on a fork of Firefox OS, launched a new version of the OS built specifically for feature phones, and today at MWC in Barcelona the company announced a new wave of milestones around the effort that includes access to apps from Facebook, Twitter and Google in the form of its Voice Assistant, Google Maps, and Google Search; as well as a list of handset makers who will be using the OS in their phones, including HMD/Nokia (which announced its 8110 yesterday), Bullitt, Doro and Micromax; and Qualcomm and Spreadtrum for processing on the inside.

KaiOS has been around since last year, primarily it seems on two devices — the OneTouch Go Flip from Alcatel and the Jio Jio Phone from Reliance in India — and the company says that it has 30 million devices in use today with its OS.

To be sure, the idea of a feature-rich handset that is not a smartphone is not new. In fact, you could argue that this was originally the vision of Mozilla in its own mobile effort, as it looked to create a new ecosystem of HTML5-based apps and cheaper handsets for the developing world, where Android and Apple’s iOS had yet to get significant market share for their more expensive devices.

That vision never panned out for Mozilla — with its devices, made in partnership with carriers, never proving to quite have the right click with buyers, and Android devices became cheaper and cheaper. But while all the talk of mobile handsets for the last many years has been focused around smartphones, there has remained a strong interest in feature devices. That’s the case not just in emerging markets — but, as it turns out, in developed markets, where a feature phone either exists as a “back up” for a smartphone owner, or as a pared-down and smaller device that is simply easier to use.

In both scenarios, people may have opted out of owning small, portable computers but they still want some of the perks of these devices, such as a few of the more popular apps; quick internet access when they need it; email and messaging. In exchange, they are getting cheaper devices with much longer battery life. The 8110 announced yesterday, for example, has a battery life of 17 days.

The feature phone trend is not one that seems to be going away. KaiOS cites research from IDC that estimates that this market will see sales of 500 million units each year for the next five — a trend that could see a fillip from pricing pressures and a general decline in smartphone sales, and perhaps even from the nascent trend of people actually preferring to shut off rather than constantly be connected.

Social networks Facebook and Twitter have been working on many routes to expanding their user base further into the developing world, and their use of mobile phones as their primary “computers”. This has seen them working on a plethora of initiatives to do so, from zero-rating apps through to developing lite versions that use less data and have less features. Interestingly, it looks like Google is taking a slightly more selective route, with its apps for now available only on the version of KaiOS running in the Nokia 8110 — part of a larger partnership between the two companies.


Android – TechCrunch