A closer look at Firefox's Tracking Protection feature

Tracking Protection is a privacy feature of the Firefox web browser designed to block certain unwanted elements on sites visited in the browser.
All Firefox users have options to control Tracking Protection in the web browser; Mozilla announced in June 2019 that Tracking Protection is enabled by default for new Firefox installations, and that it plans to make it the default for existing Firefox installations as well provided that the user has not customized Tracking Protection.
The announcement raised several questions: users wanted to know more about Tracking Protection, whether the system was good enough to make installed extensions superfluous, whether they could uninstall content blockers, and if there was any downside to enabling the feature.
Tracking Protection Basics

Firefox users may customize Tracking Protection functionality in several ways. One of the easier options is to load about:preferences#privacy in the Firefox address bar and check the “content blocking” section on the page that opens.
Tracking Protection offers three presets: standard, strict, and custom.

Standard (default): blocks known trackers in private windows and third-party tracking cookies in all windows.
Strict: blocks trackers in all windows and third party cookies.
Custom: select what to block:

Trackers: in all windows, private windows, change blocklist.
Cookies: third-party trackers, from unvisited websites, all third-party cookies, all cookies.
Cryptominers
Fingerprinters

Firefox displays a Shield icon next to the site address if Tracking Protection is blocking something on the active site. A click on the icon provides an overview of what is being blocked on the page.

The Content Blocking section of the panel that opens provides the following information and controls:

Tracking Protection status (e.g. custom or standard).
Whether Trackers, Cookies, Miners, or Fingerprinters are blocked, or partially blocked. Note that Firefox displays only the types that are blocked and not the others.
Option to look at blocked content.
Option to turn off Tracking Protection for the site.

A click on a content type that is blocked on the active site displays the list of content that is blocked on it.

Options to interact with the blocked content are not provided but you find a link to the content blocking options in the interface.
Tracking Protection lists and exceptions
Firefox uses lists provided by Disconnect. Level 1 is the default that is used by the browser’s Tracking Protection feature.

Level 1: allows some trackers to avoid site breakage.
Level 2: blocks all detected trackers. Mozilla notes that this may break “some videos, photo slideshows, and social networking features”.

The only option to switch to the level 2 list is to set Tracking Protection to the custom level. Select “change block list” under custom options to do so.

Disconnect maintains a list of trackers that it does not block. If a company runs a tracker on its main site, blocking the tracker would prevent access to the site at all.
You find the current list of unblocked domains here. The list includes sites such as aol.com, gravatar.com, amazon.com, or akamai.com.
There is no option to configure Firefox’s Tracking Protection to block these trackers as well. Since you find CDNs on the list as well, blocking them would break sites that rely on these.
Tracking Protection vs. Ad-blocking
Tracking Protection and ad-blocking share some features but are different in others. Mozilla’s Tracking Protection approach tries to improve user privacy by blocking certain forms of tracking, namely tracking cookies and a list of known trackers.
Ad-blockers focus on advertisement elements on websites and block these, and by doing so, improve privacy as well as they may block cookies from being set by advertising domains.
Tracking Protection may block some ad elements on websites that you visit but others may still be displayed. A content blocker like uBlock Origin blocks all advertisement on a page by default. Some content blockers, especially Adblock Plus, allow certain ads by default.
Tracking Protection History

11.2014 — Mozilla launches Tracking Protection in desktop Firefox Nightly.
12.2014 — Tracking Protection added to mobile Firefox for Android.
03.2015 — Tracking Protection enabled in private browsing mode.
05.2015 — Study suggests that tracking protection reduces page load time by 44% on average.
09.2015 — Option to select different blocklists added.
09.2016 — Tracking Protection Test Pilot experiment launches.
11.2017 — Tracking Protection launches in Firefox 57 Stable (works in non-private windows)
05.2018 — Optional anti-mining and anti-fingerprinting protections added.
06.2018 — Mozilla plans to push Tracking protection.

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Here is what is new in Firefox 67.0.2

Mozilla released Firefox 67.0.2 to the Stable channel on June 11, 2019. The new version of the Firefox web browser is already available and Firefox installations configured to check for updates automatically will pick up the new version eventually to download and install it.
Firefox users who don’t want to wait for that to happen can run a manual check for updates with a click on Menu > Help > Check for Updates.
The new version is also available as a direct download on the Mozilla website.
Firefox 67.0.2

Firefox 67.0.2 is a bug fix release that addresses several issues in the browser. Here is the list of changes and improvements in the release:

Fixed the JavaScript error “TypeError: data is null in PrivacyFilter.jsm” which could “significantly degrade sessionstore reliability and performance”.
Manual proxy setups may have seen multiple proxy authentication dialogs with requests to authenticate in Firefox 67.
Persaon’s MyCloud breaks if FIDO U2F is not Chrome’s implementation.
Fixed an issue in Firefox for Linux and Mac OS X that caused Firefox to display a “profile is to recent” notification to the user if Safe Mode was used prior to the launch.
Fixed problems associated with installing and managing different languages in Firefox on Linux distribution systems.
Fixed a tag copying problem in the Firefox developer tools.
The custom homepage did not work correctly for users who configured Firefox to clear data on shutdown.
Fixed a performance regression for eclipse RAP based application.
Fixed a crash that affected Mac OS X 10.15.
Fixed an issue that prevented the starting of two downloads in parallel.

Firefox users affected by any of the issues may want to consider upgrading to Firefox 67.0.2 immediately to fix the issue that they experience.
Interested users can check out the official release notes. These link each fixed issue to the bug report on Mozilla’s bugtracking website which offers additional information on it.
The next major Firefox release, Firefox 68, is scheduled for a July 9, 2019 release.
Now You: Did you notice any of the issues in Firefox 67?
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Firefox 68: add-on release notes in add-ons manager

The Firefox Add-ons Manager will soon display the release notes of updated extensions directly in the web browser.
Mozilla plans to release the new feature in Firefox 68 which is scheduled for a July 9, 2019 release.
Firefox supports browser extensions; users may install add-ons in the browser to extend functionality of the browser or sites visited in the browser.
Add-ons are updated automatically by default whenever a new version is released by the developer or publisher. Firefox users who want more control over the update process may change the default behavior to turn automatic updates off.
Current versions of Firefox, those prior to version 68, don’t reveal update information to the user. Users don’t know what changed unless they visit the extension’s profile page on the Mozilla Add-ons repository, or, if available, the developer’s site provided that release information is published there.
The profile page on Mozilla AMO lists the release notes of the latest version of an add-on. It is possible to click on “see all versions” on the page to display release notes for previous releases.
Starting with Firefox 68, release notes are also a part of the Firefox web browser.

All you need to do is open about:addons in the Firefox web browser, click on one of the installed browser extensions, and switch to the Release Notes tab.
Note that you can also click on the menu icon (the three dots) next to any extension and select “more options” to open the details page of the installed extension.
Release Notes are pulled from Mozilla’s AMO website when they are opened in the browser; it may take a moment to display them because of that. Implementing an option to integrate release notes with releases so that they don’t need to be fetched separately would be a welcome improvement.
The release notes depend on the content that the developer of the extension or its publisher add to the release notes snipped on Mozilla AMO. Some developers provide extensive information, others barely any information at all.
Closing Words
The option to display release notes directly in the Firefox Add-ons Manager is a welcome step in the right direction. I’d like to see an option get these displayed during add-on updates as well to get even more control over the updating process.
Mozilla could implement these optionally and keep the automatic process the default in coming versions of Firefox.
Now You: What is your take on the change? Anything you’d like to see added to it?
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Firefox 69: support page lists path to Firefox binary

Mozilla added the path of the Firefox binary to the web browser’s support page in Firefox 69 to make it easier for Firefox users to find out from where Firefox was started.
Firefox’s about:support page offers a wealth of information: from links to the profile folder and update folder over information on the multiprocess status and browser version, to modified preferences, installed extensions and Mozilla installed extensions, and WebRender information.
All Firefox users need to do is load about:support in the browser’s address bar to access it. A click on the Firefox menu and the selection of Help > Troubleshooting Information opens it as well.
Firefox versions before 69 list the update folder and profile folder path but not the application directory and binary that was launched. While that is not a problem on a system with a single Firefox installation, it could be difficult to tell which Firefox version was started if multiple versions are installed on systems or used as portable versions.
Users who just install a single copy of Firefox on a system may benefit from the new information as well as it highlights the directory of the Firefox installation.
A new bug was added to [email protected] in May 2019 that confirms the train of thought:
It can be challenging to find out where Firefox is installed from a user since there seems no way in the UI to get it and when a user has multiple installs they might not know which one was started by the OS.

From Firefox 69 on, all you have to do is load about:support in the Firefox address bar and check the Application Binary value under Application Basics near the top of the webpage.
Windows users find the path to the firefox.exe  excutable file there, e.g. C:Program FilesFirefox Nightlyfirefox.exe.
Mozilla aims for a Firefox 69 Stable release; it seems unlikely that the change will be postponed as it is a simple change that adds information to the troubleshooting page only.
Now You: do you use Firefox’s about:support page? Anything you’d like to see on it that you think is missing from it?
 
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Mozilla might launch Firefox Premium in 2019

Mozilla CEO Chris Beard confirmed in an interview  that the organization plans to offer premium services in the near future.
Mozilla is aware of the organization’s dependency on search and the revenue that it brings in. About 90% of the overall revenue of Mozilla comes from search deals at the time of writing, the remaining ten percent from Pocket, donations, and other revenue sources.
Firefox Premium is an attempt to diversify Mozilla’s revenue without limiting or restricting any of the existing services.
Beard mentions a VPN service as an example of a premium service. Mozilla could offer a free basic VPN service to all of its users and a paid version with improved functionality and features on top of that.
The practice is not uncommon; several VPN providers offer a free basic version with limited bandwidth, server availability or speed, and an upgraded paid product that does away with the limits or extends them. It is unclear if the VPN service would be run by Mozilla or if the organization would cooperate with an existing provider.

Mozilla did cooperate with ProtonVPN in the past already to offer VPN services to Firefox users.
The only other service that Beard mentions in the interview is a data storage service but no information was provided in the interview. Companies that offer data storage services often use a freemium model as well. Users may sign up and get a couple of Gigabytes of storage as free users; those that require more may pay a monthly or yearly fee to get more online storage.
Beard mentioned that Mozilla is considering several premium service options and that Mozilla is aiming for an official release in October 2019.
Mozilla plans to launch individual services in the future. The interview suggests that the organization could launch these services for free initially and premium options later on.
Tip: Check out the best VPN add-ons for Firefox.
Closing Words
Firefox Premium services could launch as early as October of 2019. The services could diversify Mozilla’s revenue streams significantly. It is clear that Mozilla wants to reduce the reliance on search deals especially since the revenue depends to a large part on one of its competitors in the browser market, Google.
A Google not-renewing the search deal scenario looms over Mozilla’s head even though it is unlikely that this is going to happen. Google could negotiate with an iron fist perfectly knowing that Mozilla does not have lots of choices when it comes to search deals partners.
The only viable candidate left would be Microsoft and the company’s Bing search engine. Microsoft did make search deals in the past with companies like Yahoo or more recently Verizon.
If Mozilla gets the premium services right, it could very well establish services that surpass search revenue in the long run. The organization needs to stay true to the attributes it stands for, especially when it comes to privacy, openness, and a user-focused appraoch to things.
I don’t mind the release of premium services by Mozilla provided that core Firefox remains untouched (which it will) and that these services are reasonably priced and have a strong focus on privacy.
Now You: What is your take on Firefox Premium?
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Mozilla to run a Firefox Origin Telemetry experiment in development versions of Firefox

Mozilla announced a push to improving privacy for all users of the Firefox web browser recently. The organization began to enable Tracking Protection functionality for all new installations with the release of Firefox 75.0.1 Stable, and plans to flip the switch for existing installations as well if settings were not modified by users already.
The new default level blocks “some” trackers in private and regular browsing windows, and known tracking cookies. The previous setting blocked some known trackers in private windows only.
The companies and individuals that operate these trackers and sites may react to the change, and Mozilla wants to be prepared for that.
The organization plans to run an experiment in development versions of the Firefox web browser to detect workarounds by these organizations and individuals.
Mozilla is aware of the sensitive nature of the data and decided that it would need a better way to analyze the data that would not potentially reveal sensitive information.
Firefox Origin Telemetry

Mozilla developed Firefox Origin Telemetry for that specific use case. The component is built on top of Prio, a “privacy-preserving data collection system developed by Stanford Professor Dan Boneh and PhD candidate Henry Corrigan-Gibbs”.
Mozilla wants to collect blocklist totals only.
We will use Firefox Origin Telemetry to collect counts of the number of sites on which each blocklist rule was active, as well as counts of the number of sites on which the rules were inactive due to one of our compatibility exemptions. By monitoring these statistics over time, we can determine how trackers react to our new protections and discover abuse.
Firefox Origin Telemetry needs to be validated before it could land in release versions of Firefox. Mozilla plans to run a test starting with Firefox 69 Nightly.
Prio requires that data is collected by two independent parties and Mozilla plans to meet the requirement in release versions. For this initial test, however, Mozilla will run both data collection servers.

The collected data falls within the organization’s “data collection policies” for pre-release versions of the Firefox web browser. The test runs on 1% of the Firefox Nightly population as that is all that is required to validate the API.
Firefox Nightly users who don’t want to participate in the experiment may disable Firefox’s ability to install and run studies, and to send technical and interaction data to Mozilla.
Both options can be configured on the about:preferences#privacy under Firefox Data Collection and Use.
Additional information is provided on Mozilla’s Security blog.
Closing Words
Mozilla is open when it comes to the collecting of Telemetry data while companies like Google don’t reveal much at all when it comes to that and the experiments that they run. The openness puts Mozilla in a difficult spot as it may be criticized for the decisions it makes; Google is not criticized nearly as much as it is usually tight-lipped in all those regards.
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Source: ghacks.net/firefox

Firefox Add-ons to delete history of active page or domain

Delete The Browsing History Of The Current Page and Delete Browsing History Of Domain Of Current Page are two Firefox add-ons that make it very easy to delete certain bits from the Firefox browsing history.
Designed by the same developer, the two add-ons are designed to erase the browsing history and cookies of the active page or of an entire site.
Firefox users may delete the browsing history and other data at any time in the browser. All that is required for that is to either use Ctrl-Shift-Del to open the clear browsing history tool or open it by going to Menu > Options > Privacy and Security > Clear History under History.

While you get some options, e.g. to clear all browsing data that accumulated over the last hour, there is no option to delete data from a single site only using the tool.
Delete The Browsing History Of The Current Page is a streamlined add-on for Firefox that serves just one purpose: erase the current page from Firefox’s browsing history.
The extension requires access to the browsing history and adds an icon to the Firefox address bar. The icon is a bit difficult to spot but you can check out the screenshot below to see where it is located in the interface.

All you have to do now is to activate the icon to remove the browsing history of the active page from the Firefox browsing history.
You may assign a shortcut to the extension as well if you prefer to delete the browsing history using a shortcut. Just open Firefox’s add-ons manager, about:addons, click on the menu icon, and select the Manage Extension Shortcuts option to do so.
Open the Browsing History using Ctrl-Shift-H to verify that the extension works.
Delete Browsing History Of Domain Of Current Page works similarly but instead of deleting the browsing history of the active page, it deletes the activity of the domain the page is hosted on.
If you visit multiple sites on Ghacks and activate the extension afterward, all Ghacks traces are removed from the browsing history.
Closing Words
Both Firefox add-ons may be useful to users who prefer to keep their browsing history clean. While that is also possible using private browsing modes or different Firefox profiles, both add a straightforward unobtrusive option to Firefox to do the same.
Firefox uses the browsing history to display suggestions to users when they type in the browser’s address bar. Visited sites may also land on the browser’s New Tab page.
Now You: How do you handle Firefox’s browsing history?
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Facebook Container 2.0 for Firefox blocks Facebook's third-party site tracking

Mozilla announced a big privacy push yesterday on the official site. The organization revealed that Firefox’s Tracking Protection would be enabled by default for non-private browser windows for new and existing users to improve user privacy and minimize tracking.
Mozilla published an updated version of its Facebook Container add-on for Firefox on June 4, 2019 as well which improves user privacy significantly.
Facebook Container was released in March 2018 officially to separate activity on Facebook from other web activity. Mozilla launched a Container test pilot experiment in 2017 to find out if there was interest for a container-based solution to contain sites in containers. The organization launched the Multi-Account Container add-on which gives Firefox users the tools at hand to create containers of their own.
Facebook Container is designed specifically for Facebook: official Facebook pages are loaded in a container to make it more difficult for Facebook to generate user profiles using third-party data. The main difference to Multi-Account Container is that Facebook Container prevents sites that are not on the allow list from being loaded in the container. It is more set-and-forget, and does not offer many customization options.
A handful of cool add-ons are available by third-parties that extend Firefox’s container functionality. The add-on Block sites outside container may be used to block sites from running outside designated containers and to allow sites to be run in multiple containers, Temporary Containers creates and deletes containers automatically while you use the browser.
Facebook Container 2.0 for Firefox

Facebook Container 2.0 improves the tracking protection of the extension further by targeting Facebook scripts on third-party sites.
Today, we’re releasing the latest update for Facebook Container which prevents Facebook from tracking you on other sites that have embedded Facebook capabilities such as the Share and Like buttons on their site.
The new version of Facebook Container blocks Facebook scripts on third-party sites by default. Note that the blocking affects only active scripts; the Facebook button here on this site is passive and does not submit any data to Facebook on page load.
The new version of Facebook Container works for signed-in and anonymous users. Mozilla notes that the blocking makes it more difficult for Facebook to create so-called Shadow Profiles which contain data about users who are not on Facebook or data that cannot be linked to an existing Facebook user.
Firefox adds a purple fence badge to Facebook elements that it blocked on third-party websites. The very same blocking icon is also displayed when you load Facebook pages directly; this time it is displayed in the Firefox address bar. Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger are loaded in the container by default.

The colored underline of the container tab in Firefox’s tab bar remains as it has before to indicate that the tab was loaded in a container.
Facebook Container does not impact functionality on first-party Facebook websites. All features should work on these sites just like before. The container may limit functionality on third-party sites, especially if these sites embed Facebook content or use Facebook’s login system.
Closing Words
Facebook Container 2.0 improves the effectiveness of the Firefox add-on significantly by taking care of Facebook scripts on third-party websites.
 
 
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Mozilla enables Tracking Protection by default in Firefox

Mozilla announced on June 4, 2019  it enabled the privacy feature Tracking Protection for new Firefox installations as of this day, and that the change will be enabled for existing Firefox installations as well this year.
Mozilla launched Tracking Protection in Firefox Nightly (desktop and mobile) in late 2014, and enabled the feature for Firefox’s private browsing mode with the release of Firefox 39 in 2015.
Studies by Mozilla revealed that Tracking Protection decreased page load time by an average of 44% next to improving the privacy of users by blocking tracking cookies.
Mozilla relied on the Disconnect list and introduced an option to select different blocklists in late 2015. The organization launched a Tracking Protection Test Pilot experiment in 2016 to gather more data, and included full tracking protection functionality in Firefox 57 in 2017.
Full tracking protection meant that Firefox users could enable tracking protection for regular browsing windows directly from the browser’s settings.
Tracking Protection got another boost in 2018 when Mozilla added mining and fingerprinting protection options to the feature. Mozilla made the decision then and there to push tracking protection in Firefox by improving its visibility.
June 4, 2019 marks the next step. Tracking Protection is enabled by default in all new Firefox installations so that third-party tracking cookies are blocked in all browsing windows ; a huge change to the previous default value that blocked trackers (and not cookies) only in private windows.
Mozilla plans to make the setting the default for existing Firefox installations in the coming months as well.

Firefox users who run the browser already may change the default setting to benefit from the new tracking right away. It is certainly also possible to disable the tracking altogether.

Load about:preferences#privacy in the browser’s address bar.
Select Custom under Content Blocking.
Check the “cookies” box to block cookies and trackers going forward.
Optional: block trackers in all windows and not only in private windows. Note that this may impact accessibility and functionality of some sites.

You can check out Mozilla’s content blocking support page for additional information on all options.
Mozilla indicates blocked content with a shield icon next to the web address in the browser’s main toolbar. A click on it displays what is blocked, an option to turn off blocking for that site, or to check what has been blocked by the browser’s protective features.
Closing Words
It took a long time to get where we are today. Mozilla enabling Tracking Protection for all its users is a welcome step as it improves privacy for all Firefox users. Some may say that limiting tracking is not going far enough, and there is certainly some justification to that as tracking is just one side of the coin that makes Internet users dislike ads.
Besides privacy, advertisement is disliked because it slows down the loading of sites, may be disruptive, and may be used in malware and scam campaigns.
Still, enabling tracking protection by default is a step in the right direction albeit one that Mozilla should have made years ago.
Now You: What is your take on Mozilla’s announcement?
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Firefox 67.0.1 Release Information

Mozilla plans to release a new stable version of the Firefox web browser soon. The new version, Firefox 67.0.1, updates stable versions of the web browser.
The update is not available yet but Firefox users will get it as part of the web browser’s automatic update system or as a standalone download and installation.
Administrators can install the standalone version over an existing version to upgrade it without losing any of their data.
Mozilla released Firefox 67.0 on May 21, 2019. The new web browser introduced WebRender support to a fraction of the user base and included performance improvements.
Firefox 67.0.1

The Firefox 67.0.1 release notes are not out yet and there is surprisingly little information available at the time as to what the update fixes in the stable version.
A quick scan of Mozilla’s bug tracking site [email protected] returned one issue that Mozilla fixed in Firefox 67.0.1. The issue, filed under bug 1554029, suggests that Firefox’s downgrade detection failed for non-minor to minor versions upgrade.
Firefox would see the upgrade from Firefox 67.0 to 67.0.1 as a downgrade and trigger the downgrade warning prompt in that case to warn users about potential conflicts that may arise out of this.
Mozilla added a compatibility check to Firefox to prevent data corruption issues when administrators downgrade Firefox to an older version. Downgrades may lead to data corruption and load errors if the version Firefox is downgraded to uses different formats or data types than newer Firefox versions.
All Firefox users who would upgrade the browser from Firefox 67.0 to Firefox 67.0.1 would be informed by Mozilla on the first launch after the upgrade that they were about to launch an older version of Firefox and that that warning prompt prevented that from happening.
The prompt would not look too good and would cause lots of confusion among users as it offered only two options: create new profile or quit. Firefox users would not be able to use the browser with the old profile or use it at all as a consequence.
The issue is caused by a math error when comparing the old version and build IDs to the new versions as explained on the Bugzilla listing by Dave Townsend.
We build compatibility versions as <appversion>_<appbuildid>/<platformbuildid>. where the build ID’s by default are a numeric representation of the date that the build happened.
Previously we attempted to mangle this into a valid toolkit version by converting to <appversion>.<appbuildid>.<platformbuildid> if the build IDs were the expected length. We also split each build ID into two version parts since the version comparator couldn’t handle their full size.
This mangling fails when comparing a major version with a new patch version:
<majorversion>.<appbuildid>.<platformbuildid> gets compared to <majorversion>.1.<appbuildid>.<platformbuildid>. Unless that patch version (1 here) was greater than the build ID (currently in the tens of millions) the patch release would appear to be older than the previous version.
It is unclear if Firefox 67.0.1 addresses other issues. We will update the article once the official release notes are published by Mozilla.
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