August 31, 2018 // 10:46 a.m.
Mozilla, the non-profit behind the popular open-source Firefox web browser, has announced it is making a shift towards privacy-as-standard with future releases to block tracking techniques by default.
In current Firefox releases, in common with rival web browsers, there's a system for both flagging that you do not wish to be tracked across the web - a technique advertisers use to see what pages you visit and thus what products or services you may wish to buy - and for actively blocking such tracking, the latter aimed primarily at those who ignore the largely-voluntary former. It is, however, something users need to switch on manually - a requirement that will change, Mozilla has confirmed, in future releases.
'Tracking slows down the web. In a study by Ghostery, 55.4 percent of the total time required to load an average website was spent loading third party trackers. For users on slower networks the effect can be even worse,' explains Mozilla's Nick Nguyen in the company's announcement. 'In the physical world, users wouldn’t expect hundreds of vendors to follow them from store to store, spying on the products they look at or purchase. Users have the same expectations of privacy on the web, and yet in reality, they are tracked wherever they go. Most web browsers fail to help users get the level of privacy they expect and deserve.
'Deceptive practices that invisibly collect identifiable user information or degrade user experience are becoming more common. For example, some trackers fingerprint users — a technique that allows them to invisibly identify users by their device properties, and which users are unable to control. Other sites have deployed cryptomining scripts that silently mine cryptocurrencies on the user’s device. Practices like these make the web a more hostile place to be.'
As a result of these observations Mozilla will begin blocking slow-loading trackers by default in Firefox 63, cross-site trackers by Firefox 65, and 'harmful practices' in as-yet unspecified 'future versions.'
'This is about more than protecting users — it’s about giving them a voice,' Nguyen continues. '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.'
While the changes are some time away from general distribution, those eager to try out the new settings can install the Firefox Nightly build and toggle slow-loading and cross-site tracker blocking now from the browser's control centre.