Why you may want to enable Firefox Telemetry data - gHacks Tech News

Why you may want to enable Firefox Telemetry data

Mozilla some time ago implemented options in the Firefox web browser to collect anonymous telemetry data about browser usage and customizations. It is a useful feature for the organization as it provides its engineers with data on what is hot and what is not so to speak.

I have covered the browser's Telemetry feature back in 2011 for the first time when it was introduced by Mozilla. To sum it up in a sentence: Telemetry collects and shares performance, customization, hardware and usage about the browser with Mozilla.

One of the first things that I have done in the past when I set up Firefox anew was to disable the sending of data to Mozilla. I disabled Telemetry, Crash Reporter and the Health Report so that no data was transferred to Mozilla. It is likely that many advanced or power users are doing the same, and while that seems like the reasonable thing to do privacy-wise, it may have a severe consequence.

Mozilla uses Telemetry data when it makes development decisions. Development is a broad term that not only refers to improving the browser's performance and stability, but also to interface modifications.

And that is where it gets interesting. Advanced users use Firefox in a different way. They may have enabled the add-on bar for example, or display tabs below the address bar, or use a custom toolbar. Mozilla won't know that if Telemetry is disabled. At the very least, it may get different counts on how many users actually customize the browser, and how many do not.

While I cannot say for sure how big of an impact it would make if all power users would turn on Telemetry right now, it could highlight that more users than thought are using Firefox features that Mozilla plans to remove from the web browser.

It may be a long shot, and it may not make a difference in the end, but we never know if we do not try.

How to enable Telemetry in Firefox

firefox telemetry

To enable Firefox's Telemetry feature do the following:

  1. Press the Alt-key on your keyboard and select Tools > Options from the menu at the top.
  2. Switch to Advanced > Data Choices in the Options window.
  3. There you find Telemetry. To enable it, check the box and close the Window afterwards.
  4. Once enabled, enter about:telemetry to see some of the information the Telemetry feature collects.

Note: Telemetry is enabled by default in Firefox Aurora and Nightly, and disabled by default in Firefox Beta and Stable.

Closing Words

I do not know if this will make a difference or not. But I prefer to give it a try rather than to being a passive bystander that does nothing to bring his point across.

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Comments

  1. fokka said on August 21, 2013 at 8:17 am
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    you got a point there. damn powerusers.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 21, 2013 at 8:28 am
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      I’m not sure if it would make a difference or not, but it may be worth a thought, at the very least.

  2. BobbyPhoenix said on August 21, 2013 at 8:50 am
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    I agree with this article. I always enable it. I may not be a “power user”, but I don’t think I’m a “normal” user either. I think every power user I know disables it, and when I check normal everyday users settings when they ask me how to do something because they don’t know what they are doing (Not in a bad way. They are just users) they are all enabled. I think the “normal” user just agrees and enables it thinking that’s the thing to do. The interesting thing is what you said. If Mozilla uses this info to track how the browser is being used, and what options people use, they are getting a much different view than what is really out there. That’s why all these features advanced users use are getting removed. It’s not Mozilla’s fault because they can only go by what is sent to them. All the users who disable these settings shouldn’t complain if something gets changed or removed because they are doing it to themselves. Mozilla is just modifying the browser for the everyday normal user as that is the info they get.

  3. Paul(us) said on August 21, 2013 at 9:22 am
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    Great article again Martin,
    I always gave Mozilla all the info the wanted and up till right now I am convinced that It does not handicap main system.
    I personally think that I am quit a power user this because I regularly open during a session about 500 links (read new tabs).
    And still main Firefox keeps on working.

    Something completely different now:
    Great this opportunity to edit your mistakes our add something to main post. Another great Ghacks/Martin idea! :-)

  4. stricnin said on August 21, 2013 at 9:35 am
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    I would also like for Mozilla to publish what trends they are see with the given data.

  5. Peter Buyze said on August 21, 2013 at 11:06 am
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    In my opinion one should enable all 3 options because they all help to improve FF and keep it at the forefront of the pack.

  6. Nebulus said on August 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm
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    “Usage Statistics (also known as Telemetry). Beginning with version 7, Firefox includes functionality that sends Mozilla usage, performance, and responsiveness statistics about user interface features, memory, hardware configuration along with IP address.”
    Taken from: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/legal/privacy/firefox.html#telemetry

    Also, for Firefox up to 19, there is a plugin that shows what telemetry data is sent to Mozilla (called “about:telemetry”), and apparently for later versions the option to show telemetry data is built in the browser (using about:telemetry). Using that plugin I looked at the telemetry data and it seems that all of it is performance related, so Mozilla doesn’t appear to be interested in how the users set up their browsers… Hence, I don’t see any advantages in enabling it.

  7. ozone33 said on August 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm
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    I just enabled Telemetry Data because In the last few articles I have read on ghacks, I have determined that the cumulative message is that Mozilla is taking out all of the Power User features from Firefox because they are getting their usage information from a very small set of the actual user base. This article makes that point very clear. I am a power user and I turn off all data sharing whenever I install a new copy of any browser. I agree completely with your point and have turned on Telemetry Data.

  8. Neal said on August 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm
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    Their over reliance on telemetry data is leading to disaster on austrailis and their correspondence in the firefox dev mailing list makes it clear they could care less about what “power” users want or even reservations from engineers from other Mozilla departments.

    As long as they don’t personally use a feature, they will remove it and when challenged cite telemetry data.

  9. XenoSilvano said on August 21, 2013 at 6:15 pm
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    This is why democratic voting where the majority wins is such a bad idea, you wouldn’t want people who know less than you about a given subject to influence the decisions for you.

    Which brings me to Australis, the following are few issues that bother me about the upcoming reinvention of Firefox’s user interface:-

    1 – The ‘add-on bar’ will be taking away, replaced with a panel based menu button.

    Which is of particular concern to me given that the add-ons that I use display visual indicators that need to be seen so that the user can be made aware of whats going on during the browsing experience.

    2 – A new curvy tab-esk scheme will replace the default tab bar.

    I think the size of the main tab that represents the page the user is currently on is far too big ‘I use ‘Prevent Tab Overflow’ (yeah, like we need to see the webpages title or the title of the website), the curviness of the tabs also seem out of place in a time where everything around us is turning angular.

    3 – The option to set small icons will be remove.

    I don’t see what the point of that is, I have a personal preference for smaller icons.

    4 – The Firefox button will be remove.

    I thought the Firefox button was rather big that’s I decided to get the ‘Moveable Firefox Button’ add-on.

    In terms of user interface design and specifically in regards to icon placement, even though this concept has less relevance, how many programs do you know of that do not come with a miniaturized icon of the program’s logo in the upper left-hand corner of the window(?)

    I would also like to know whose responsible for popularization the three horizontal strip icon ‘☰’ that has now turned into the universal default icon to represent the options menu, that icon is being implemented almost everywhere now. The reason I don’t like that icon is because of the impression of consistency that icons represent, the options menu from one program to another are not always consistent.

    Maybe I’m being overly skeptical (or maybe not) I just don’t want the telemetry that Mozilla receives to ruin a good thing.

    1. Robert said on August 22, 2013 at 8:53 am
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      @Xeno-very nice response.

  10. XenoSilvano said on August 21, 2013 at 6:35 pm
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    @ – Paul(us)

    ‘Great this opportunity to edit your mistakes our add something to main post. Another great Ghacks/Martin idea! :-)’

    Ask for disqus

  11. Moses Arthesi said on August 22, 2013 at 1:28 am
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    What about user who use other Firefox built like Cyberfox or Palemoon. I use Cyberfox in my Windows 7 Pro 64bit because Cyberfox is Firefox 64bit built. Using Palemoon portable in my work desktop. Both have no telemetry entry in the option.

    But I use archlinux built for my Archlinux intalled laptop and enabled Telemetry.

    And I believe that many power user or advanced user use another Firefox built then the standard Mozilla built.

    What about another data that sent to Mozilla, like Heath Report? I personally enabled it. But another people have valid excuse to disable it. I just hope that by enable Health Report could make Firefox better.

  12. P. user said on August 22, 2013 at 2:09 am
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    Telemetry = officially send telemetry data are performance related , not customization matters .

    Mozilla proved that it wants to make more money cooperating with Google and maybe worse entities…,
    not to make good to power users who are say 5 % of users and if they could know that it is 10% or 20 or even 35 not 5% -it’s no difference to decision makers .
    They can estimate % of power users judging by related addons popularity.
    Also they can suppose that those who check out sending data are also customizing interface in some extend.
    So if “they don’t know” = it means they don’t interested to know .

    Australis is next step in chromification = making users dumbler by giving less choice =less thinking more consuming trivial stuff- it is planned above Mozilla and it just follows .(just like forcing Windows touch interface to PC users-they know but they obliged to enforce).

    If you take approach “give them own data so they will better govern future changes/will know what you want ” = then why not extend this approach on every others spying entities out there ?
    Throw out Ghostery, Adblock and so on…take chips into brain ?
    Naivety….

  13. Taras said on August 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm
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    Hey,
    I’m the dev behind telemetry. I appreciate you encouraging people to use it. I wouldn’t worry about power users biasing our data, enough users opt in to make you guys disappear. I would be glad to have a problem of too many power users turning on telemetry :) More users = better decision-making for us.

    Re using telemetry to justify australis: before telemetry one would’ve used anecdotal evidence or puny samples from focused studies. That is strictly worse.

    As far as what people report: it’s mostly perf data indeed. We occasionally put in things to measure how people use the product: eg is our 3rd-party cookie scheme is working, etc.

    You can see the complete list(with descriptions) at http://mxr.mozilla.org/mozilla-central/source/toolkit/components/telemetry/Histograms.json in addition to about:telemetry in the browser. You can also visit our (prototype) dashboard at http://telemetry-dash.mozilla.org/ to browse the data being submitted.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm
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      Taras, thanks for the reply. Can you share information about the number of users who have Telemetry enabled?

      1. Taras said on August 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm
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        I don’t know. Our dashboard provides a number of submissions per histogram selection. http://telemetry-dash.mozilla.org/#release%2023/FX_APP_MENU_OPEN_MS/saved-session says 1.7mil submissions, divide that by number of days ff23 has been out, account for gradual uptake and you can make an educated guess as good as mine.

        Note a single user can provide many submissions per day, but I suspect they average to about 1 a day.

        Our privacy policy prevents us from using UUIDs, recording IPs of submissions, etc. We don’t know the exact number of telemetry users. Equivalent systems in Google, IE use UUIDs, this would be more feasible for them to answer.

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm
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        Well, it is one more for a couple of days now at the very least ;)

        Thanks for the fast reply.

    2. trlkly said on October 5, 2013 at 5:15 am
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      No, it’s not worse, since you have no data from telemetry on Australis, since it isn’t implemented. You have more data from these other methods.

      I wonder if that’s the problem. There’s almost no one saying that Austratlis is good, and even those who are don’t say they like the removal of the addon bar. But if all you are looking at is telemetry, you’ll never learn that.

      Also, power users don’t want to disappear. We want to be fairly represented. In fact, since power users are most likely your most enthusiastic users and your biggest advertisers, their opinions should count more. Trying to please only those who don’t care is a horrible idea.

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