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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 67.0.1 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

firefox tracking protection default

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.

firefox study telemetry

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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