Privacy-minded Firefox users who are tired of websites keeping tabs on their browsing habits should keep their eyes peeled for the Firefox 57 update, also known as Quantum, due out 14 November.
This next major update is expected to include an option to turn on Tracking Protection, which—as the name implies—protects you from tracking. Specifically, it stops sites from loading code that can be used to track you across multiple websites:
Firefox will ship with a list of sites which have been identified as engaging in cross-site tracking of users. When tracking protection is enabled, Firefox will block content from sites in the list.
These scripts are often used by advertisers and website owners who want to gather as much information on their visitors’ demographics and browsing habits as they can, usually to serve up targeted advertisements or to tweak their website’s content.
Although the Firefox bug tracker indicates that the new Tracking Protection option will make its debut in version 57 it isn’t in the version 57 beta, although it is visible in the browser’s nightly builds.
The nightly build shows that the Tracking Protection option is still only applied to private windows by default but can, for the first time, be enabled for all browsing by going to Preferences > Privacy & Security > Tracking Protection, and clicking Always.
Users can make themselves even more stealthy by clicking Change Block List… and choosing the strict protection list instead of the standard basic protection list.
Not everyone wants their information and web habits tracked so closely, by an ever-increasing number of websites, so those that have the tech-savvy have leaned on third-party fixes: browser extensions that block scripts or ads, or custom browser builds that have adblockers built-in.
Adblockers, and particularly script blockers like NoScript, can be a blunt solution though and as they’ve become more popular we’ve also seen an increase in websites trying to outwit them, or nagging users to put up with ads or pay up.
The default Tracking Protection list, basic protection, is Firefox’s attempt to be more scalpel than cudgel: it disables only known tracker scripts, not all scripts (including many that can be core to how contemporary websites function), and “allows some known content trackers to reduce website breakage”.
Likely though users will use Tracking Protection in conjunction with their existing ad blocker, not instead of it.
Blocking ads and tracking scripts from third parties has the added benefit for users of protecting them from malvertising (ads or scripts hijacked to deliver malicious content), as well as stopping plain old annoying banner ads.
And because ads and tracking scripts take time to download and run, blocking them can also boost performance, something Mozilla, makers of Firefox, are happy to talk up:
Since Firefox does not download and render content from tracking domains, Tracking Protection also enjoys performance benefits of a 44% median reduction in page load time and 39% reduction in data usage in the Alexa top 200 news sites.
Previously, Firefox users who wanted to enjoy the privacy, protection and performance improvements of the Tracking Protection capability could only do so within Private Browsing mode.
Private Browsing disables a number of features that some users might want to keep, like stored site logins or preferences, and that can put people off from using it for day-to-day browsing.
With the Firefox 57 update, Mozilla unboxes a popular privacy-centric feature that was previously confined to Private Browsing and brings it a step closer to normal browsing (provided your remember to turn it on).
13 comments on “Firefox to offer tracking protection for all in its next update”
Just to clear up one thing, the new Tracking Protection feature for Firefox 57 actually is there in the beta version. I’m not sure which beta version it showed up in but it’s definitely in beta 14 (the alleged last beta version before the first RC release) just as the image in the article shows including being able to switch the blocking list from basic to strict.
I have Beta 57.0b14 (64-bit) on Mac and it shows a single tick box under “Tracking Protection” with the text “Use Tracking Protection in Private Browsing to block known trackers”.
How often do features like this vary by OS?
I’ve not heard of features like this varying by OS.
Seems I have a distant, sunken memory of an example that can’t quite surface, possibly way back in the days of Firefox 1.7 (MAN what a fast browser, putting IE in its place). Winstalled at work and on both Windows and Linux at home, and it seems I’d found something that prompted “hey WAIT, that wasn’t over *here*!” Gimme a sec, and I may recall.
I expect discrepancies happen more in beta than production–unless I misunderstand and issues in one codebase will hold up all of them. Kirk apparently sees something differing from what you do. By the full release they’ll likely be universal.
Just updated to 57, and there it is…
(Linux Mint XFCE) apt-get brought me to only v 56, with only the boolean toggle.
Manual DL of the latest .bz2 got 57, which shows the expected always/private/never.
Win64 v 57 has it also.
Tracking Protection for regular tabs has been there for the last 2 years, you could enable it in about:config by setting privacy.trackingprotection.enabled to true. Nothing new.
What’s new (well, newish if you insist) is moving this from about:config into the mainstream “overtly suported” system, along with two levels of blocklist granularity.
Quite how effective a blocklist alone is going to be remains to be seen (in SophosLabs we try to deal with blocking unwanted stuff in as many concurrent ways as we can, e.g. URLs, script content, behaviour), but you have to admit that there’s a big difference between “buried in about:config as a very optional detail” and “here it is, everyone, turn it on at will”.
As far as users are concerned the interface is the software and so for the vast majority of people anything that’s in about:config is invisible, and isn’t there. If there was no difference between something being in about:config or being on the preferences interface the software wouldn’t have a preferences interface.
I have Firefox Quantum on one of my PCs. That was an error to install it, it is full of bugs. The new tracking protection must be hidden, I have not found it. I would like to go back to the firefoxI I was using, it is not possible, so for this one PC, I will be looking for a new broser with or without tracking protection. Why is Firefox trying to copy Chrome, they did a bad job of doing it.
I too made the mistake of installing the new version only to find NoScript add-on does not work. I downloaded and reinstalled the previous version 56 and NoScript is back.
NoScript works just fine in 57, it began working a few short days after the installment.