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11 April 2013, 12:45

Firefox development versions show privacy plans moving forward

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Firefox Beta/Aurora icon The latest Aurora and Beta releases of the open source Firefox browser show privacy features are at the top of the feature list for the browser. Currently in Beta, Firefox 21 now includes a new user interface for the Do Not Track (DNT) system and Firefox 22, available in the Aurora test channel, has the new cookie policy, announced in February, implemented.

The new cookie policy is contentious as it will mean that only sites the user has visited can set cookies; this will mean that third-party tracking cookies sent from sites which the user has not visited, such as those from advertising networks, will not be accepted. The policy is modelled on the cookie handling of Apple's Safari browser which has used it for a number of years. The change in policy by Mozilla has been criticised by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) who claim the change will stop advertisers from sending consumers "content and promotions that are expected to match their interests". The appearance of the feature in the Aurora release seems to cement Mozilla's intent to push forward with the feature.

Other features appearing in the Aurora release of Firefox 22 include better display scaling options on Windows, download progress in the Mac OS X dock and adjustable playback rates for HTML5 video. The update will also see improved WebGL rendering performance, better memory usage and faster image display, support for HTML5's <date> and <time> elements, and plain text files will now be word wrapped when Firefox displays them. The Aurora release will be promoted to beta in the middle of May as it progresses through Firefox's rapid release system.

Firefox's extra DNT option
Zoom Firefox's extra DNT option allows users to opt-in to tracking.
Source: Mozilla
The new Do Not Track user interface in the current beta, Firefox 21, is designed to expand users' available choices on how they signal their desires. As pointed out in January by Lead Privacy Engineer Sid Stamm, when Firefox introduced DNT, it allowed the user to set DNT to "say nothing" or "say do not track". But there was a third state, "say do track", which wasn't available to users. Arguments over the interpretation of DNT settings have hinged on whether DNT settings come from a default or from a user's expressed preference and with the change, Firefox users will be able to express all available options. The default, "say nothing", remains in place.

Firefox 21 will also see the first implementation of the Firefox Health Report, FHR. This is a system designed to gather data about browser performance and stability. When users are upgraded to Firefox 21, they will be informed of FHR and given the option to disable it. Mozilla says it will not be collecting IP addresses but will extract country data from them and it is using a rolling document mechanism for collecting data which sees it deleted after 180 days. An FAQ gives further information on what will be deployed when Firefox 21 is released to the Firefox user base in the middle of May.

Other changes in Firefox 21 will include automatic hints on how to improve startup, the ability to restore removed thumbnails, some graphics performance improvements, and some tidying up of the recently unified browsing and download histories. Developers will find remote profiling, and the Add-on SDK and libraries will be integrated into the browser.


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