Get general statistics about your Firefox browsing history - gHacks Tech News

Get general statistics about your Firefox browsing history

If you want to find out more about the sites that you are visiting in the Firefox web browser, you may be interested in a new add-on from Mozilla's Prospector team. About:profile is a new add-on for Firefox that analyzes the browsing history to display a summary of site categories and demographics.

First thing you need to do to get this to work is to make sure that Firefox is configured to record the browsing history. You do that with a click on the Firefox button and the selection of Options from the context menu. Switch to the privacy tab in the options window and make sure remember my browsing and download history is checked there.

All that is left to do then is to visit the official Mozilla Add-ons repository to install the about:profile add-on from there. The add-on works silently in the background from that moment on.

firefox browsing history

The extension basically looks up information about visited domain names on Alexa and DMOZ to display the information on the about:profile page that you can open in the browser. Mozilla highlights in a blog posting that the process happens on the local system and that no information about it are submitted to Mozilla.

It only looks at the domains of pages you’ve visited and references them with two packaged sources of data: ODP categories and Alexa siteinfo. All the analysis is done within the add-on and no data is sent out from Firefox, so you can take a look at about:profile even when offline.

Information rely on the sources used, and if you have been to the sites, you know that they do not offer information about any site out there. This reduces the accuracy of the summary as a consequence.

Still, if you are interested about the categories of sites that you spend the most time on, or whether you are visiting "age-appropriate" sites or not, then this add-on may be for you. It is nothing that I'd keep running in the background all the time, but for a quick check of the sites that you have visited on a day or so, it is quite interesting.

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Comments

  1. Michael Primrose said on October 7, 2012 at 8:39 am
    Reply

    Martin,

    I have a feeling that this sort of add-on is the reason I have History turned off in Firefox as a matter of security. The quote from Edward Lee at Mozilla Labs :

    “we would like to get your input on how the data in Firefox should be analyzed. There is a lot of existing data in Firefox such as titles of bookmarks, auto-completion for forms, times you’ve visited pages, cookies from sites, and much more. And even focusing on just one type of data, there’s many ways to analyze it.”

    sets off a number of security alarm bells. Whilst auto-completion of forms is disabled on my computer, the number of times a page has been visited is not valid with History disabled, and all cookies are cleared at the close of Firefox, which are all standard security recommendations, this still leaves the titles of bookmarks. As has been pointed out in recent columns, the handling of Bookmarks in Firefox is fairly rudimentary, so is the demographic analysis of our bookmark titles, presumably with respect to their currently limited domain list, something we really need as a priority.

    His further comment:

    “Next week, we’ll focus on the second piece of using the data to improve Firefox. For example, Firefox currently analyzes browsing patterns to make the AwesomeBar super-smart with predictive suggestions for where you want to go.”

    also worries me. Perhaps I am strange, but I really don’t want some one at Mozilla, however well intentioned, predicting where I would like to go on the web, based on my previous Internet and Bookmark history. It becomes the browsing equivalent of Amazon suggesting books I might like to read; well intentioned, usually wrong and I’d prefer to do my own searching, thanks awfully.

    Perhaps I take my privacy, or what remains of it too seriously to feel happy about this sort of application. I realize that none of this data goes back to Mozilla, but how will they improve their lists and the efficiency of the demographic analysis if they don;t get the data from somewhere. Is the next stage a polite request to allow Mozilla to view the relevant data so they can improve their product.

    Regards

    Michael

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 7, 2012 at 8:46 am
      Reply

      Michael, I actually have the browsing history feature turned off as well. I do not think it is a problem if the data is analyzed and stored locally. but when it gets send around, it becomes a issue. Mozilla stated that this add-on, at least in its current form, is processing everything on the local PC. While that still means submitting data to Alexa and DMOZ to retrieve the information, it appears that Mozilla won’t be notified about the findings or sites.

      1. Learn to Read said on October 7, 2012 at 10:07 am
        Reply

        The extension doesn’t submit anything. All the data that is being used for demographics and top sites are bundled with the extension.

    2. Michael Primrose said on October 7, 2012 at 10:35 am
      Reply

      I do understand that no data is submitted to Mozilla and stated that above. My point was in reference to the nature of this proof of concept add-on. Lee Edwards, the author of the add-on, makes the comment

      “We only packaged 500 sites for demographics and 5000 sites for categories for this proof of concept, so it’s somewhat expected that it might not cover everybody’s most visited sites. The included data likely has a US-audience bias given how we picked out the top 500/5000 sites. You can check the source to see what sites have been packaged:

      https://github.com/mozilla/prospector/blob/master/aboutProfile/data/categories.txt

      For the add-on to move beyond a proof concept stage and for the demographic analysis to be of more general and universal application, then the data being used for the demographics and top sites will have to be increased dramatically in both numbers and geographical extent. The additional data would have to come from somewhere, and my perhaps unduly cynical suggestion was to the effect that the easiest way for this data to be accurately collected was for users of the add-on to volunteer their data. My original comment could have been better phrased. I raised the issue because of the security and privacy concerns I had with this sort of analysis

      Michael

      1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 8, 2012 at 10:07 am
        Reply

        I agree that you need more data, even more than Alexa or DMOZ can provide you with. Then again, it is just an experiment, and not an eye-opening one from a user perspective.

  2. Ken Saunders said on October 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm
    Reply

    I think it’s silly. about:me and about:search were more interesting.

    As far as privacy, security, etc, no other company or organization cares about that more than Mozilla.

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