Firefox's Tracking Protection feature gets a boost soon

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 30, 2015
Updated • Dec 1, 2015

Work on Firefox's Tracking Protection feature continues as Mozilla plans to give users more control over the feature by adding tracking groups to the system that users can allow or disallow individually.

Tracking Protection is a new privacy feature of Firefox that Mozilla launched in Firefox 42 stable. The mode blocks connections to trackers in the browser's private browsing mode to limit exposure while using the mode.

Private browsing itself takes only care of local data, and the addition of Tracking Protection expands this by blocking remote trackers as well.

Tracking Protection updates will land in the next stable version of Firefox, and Mozilla is at work to improve the mode further in future versions.

The following mockup highlights the improvements (check out bug 1219365 to track the implementation)

Update: Mozilla's Chief Legal and Business Officer Denelle Dixon-Thayer let us know that the organization does not plan to "extend the scope of the feature currently".

Tracking Protection is enabled by default as an experiment in Private Browsing. We added it to give users more choice and control over third party tracking across the Internet. At Mozilla we work in the open and we are still experimenting with Tracking Protection in our Nightly Channel to get more feedback. There are no current plans to extend the scope of this feature.

tracking protection privacy

First of all, it shows that Firefox users may soon have the option to enable Tracking Protection for regular browsing sessions as well instead of keeping the mode enabled for private windows only.

The second big change is the separation of trackers into groups. The mockup highlights four distinct groups:

  1. Block Ad Trackers: these are used for advertisement purposes, e.g. retargeting.
  2. Block Analytics Trackers: these block web analytic software such as Google Analytics.
  3. Block Social Trackers: these block social trackers, e.g. those by Facebook or Twitter.
  4. Block Other Content: it is unclear what these will block. Mozilla notes that enabling the option may break "some videos and web pages".

Ad, analytics and social tracker blocking is enabled by default while other content blocking needs to be enabled separately.

Each group can be enabled or disabled individually, and each triggers a separate blocklist that takes care of these kind of trackers.

In addition to all of that, Firefox users get the option to disable Tracking Protection for individual sites.

There are two core reasons for doing so: first, to make sure a site works properly when Tracking Protection renders part of it unusable, and second, to allow select advertisement on sites.

Tracking Protection is not a full ad-blocker, but a side-effect of blocking trackers is that it will block certain advertisements from being displayed on sites. If you value a site, you may want to enable ads on it to make sure it earns money from your visits.

Another mockup highlights Tracking Protection changes coming to the browser's frontend.

tracking protection changes

Options to turn off the feature for individual websites is provided right there, and as is an option that reveals detailed information about the trackers that are blocked. The latter are sorted into their respective groups automatically.

Work on Tracking Protection continues which is a good thing for Mozilla as its main competitor Chrome does not have such a feature and it is unlikely that Google will add such a feature to the browser in the future. (via Sören Hentzschel)

Firefox's Tracking Protection feature gets a boost soon
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Firefox's Tracking Protection feature gets a boost soon
Mozilla plans to improve the Tracking Protection feature in Firefox significantly in the near future by giving users more control over the feature.

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  1. Jim said on December 10, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Don’t get your hopes up yet! Notice that Update at the end of the article that says that the organization does not plan to “extend the scope of the feature currently.”

  2. David Naylor said on November 30, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    This is great to see. Firefox is finally showing some promise again after several years of seemingly aimless drifting. And Ghacks is the best place to be for news on Firefox.

  3. alfie69 said on November 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    an advert should stick to just that,advertise the junk they want us to see/buy, why the hell they need to track us is beyond me..far too nosy for their own good until they learn to mind own business, people will always use ad blockers.

    1. Tom Hawack said on November 30, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Because the same ads for everyone induces loss, but a targeted ad much less. But to target a user the advertisers need to know the user better. It’s for our good, so we don’t get bothered with ads we’re unlikely to be concerned with. We must never forget that tracking, advertising is always aimed at serving us, the advertisers as well but that’s not their first aim which is that of a true, compassionate commitment to the users’ enjoyment.

      Who believes that?!

      Advertisement’s future is in doing better & less, NO tracking and NO malvertisement. That means less profit but a brighter future. Otherwise the war between them and the users will carry on, especially on the Web. No alternative for the ads business.

    2. Jeff said on November 30, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Precisely. I see so many sites moaning about ad blockers, yet serving up ads that invade user privacy and track them beyond the site the ad is served on.

      If the ad servers (and sites) want change, it starts with them.

  4. Yuliya said on November 30, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    This is really nice, and with ‘Ad, analytics and social tracker blocking is enabled by default ‘ it gets even better. It is nice to see companies that actually care about user’s privacy, standing up against obnoxious companies such as faecesbook.

    1. Tom said on November 30, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      Well done Yuliya !! Best alternative name for Facebook EVER !!

    2. Hy said on November 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      “Faecesbook”–never seen that one before. Love it!

  5. Mark said on November 30, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    “If you value a site, you may want to enable ads on it to make sure it earns money from your visits.”

    Shouldn’t the site be advised to use ads that don’t track a user so no ad’s will be blocked.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 30, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Can you name a single ad network that does that? I cannot.

      1. Aaron Wolf said on December 1, 2015 at 12:14 am

        I would put up a “your ad here!” banner with a little note like “I want to promote quality products I can comfortably endorse that don’t track my readers. Please contact me to place your ad here” or something like that. Maybe word it to request that readers help promote the opportunity…

      2. Aaron Wolf said on November 30, 2015 at 11:22 pm

        You don’t need an “ad network” per se, you can just accept ads from advertisers and put them on your site. They won’t be targeted or auto-updated or whatever, but so what? It’s not that complex to put a static ad on your site. There might be services that do support such things, i.e. some ad network that places plain static ads. It’d be the same style of service that puts ads in printed publications.

      3. Martin Brinkmann said on November 30, 2015 at 11:49 pm

        I understand that, but to get those ads, you either have to be approached by advertisers which offer those options, which never happened here in the past 10 years, or spend lots of time trying to “cold-call” advertisers in hope of finding some.

        This may be feasible for sites with a sales team or marketing, but Ghacks is a one-man show. I don’t have time for that and for everything else that is required for this.

        I’d love to get direct ads. Not only do they pay a lot better, they do away with tracking and speed up the site as well.

      4. Mark said on November 30, 2015 at 6:18 pm

        Future project?

      5. Mark said on November 30, 2015 at 5:39 pm

        Maybe its about time someone started one. I accept ads are needed on sites, which is why I don’t have an ad blocker. I do however have multiple tracking blockers. I value my privacy over the need for any site to show me a tracking AD

      6. Martin Brinkmann said on November 30, 2015 at 5:41 pm

        I agree, I’d love to see this. And I would also like to see companies run ads from the servers the website is run on and not their own, and a lot more ;)

  6. Mike J. said on November 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Wonder when this will be available on PM or Cyberfox??

    1. Hy said on November 30, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      Cyberfox stable versions have always come out the same day or within 24 hours of the Firefox stable release.

      1. Mike J. said on December 1, 2015 at 9:16 pm

        Well,Hy, I am so dumb I just assumed that the Betas were the ones with the new feature. I did download both but have installed neither yet.

      2. Hy said on December 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm

        @Mike J.: As soon as I posted that above I immediately wondered if you were referring to the beta version rather than the stable. I see that beta version 43.0 is currently available on the Cyberfox page at the 8pecxstudios site.

      3. Mike J. said on December 1, 2015 at 2:48 pm

        Thanks. I see now that there are Beta versions of both browsers, posted recently, at MajorGeeks.

  7. Tom Hawack said on November 30, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Seems to be a logical move and a good one in the scope of a user’s ability and liberty to fine tune his browser’s privacy environment. Also, not everyone uses uBlock or Adblock or whatever privacy filters.

    So, four independent filters’ lists will be available : Ad, analytics, social trackers and ‘other content blocking’ (with the first three on by default.
    Will these four lists continue to be provided by Disconnect or will there be other sources?
    Whatever, will theses four lists be updated regularly? (I guess so).
    Finally, I’m wondering if these lists will bring anything more than uBlock or Adblock filters (depending on the chosen lists of course).

    Bravo, Mozilla. I wonder how the company managed to aim (and I hope to carry on) this true user-side privacy enhancement without obstruction from the lobbies. If everything goes on well this will be indeed a strong argument not found on other browsers.

    1. Nebulus said on December 1, 2015 at 9:01 am

      Probably this is the bright side of not having a deal with the biggest advertiser on Earth: Google.

      1. Tom Hawack said on December 1, 2015 at 5:24 pm

        Google as well and, indeed, Google leader of the band.
        I was just reading an article about Adblock Plus and the latest developments of its “acceptable ads” list, getting thicker day after day and including all of Google’s famous Doubleclick advertiser. “Doubleclick” was, is, perhaps always will be the very first ad intruder blocked by any user committed to privacy and intrusion, it’s the very first advertiser blocked by most if not all HOSTS files. This “acceptable ads” list can be disabled of course but whatever, remains relevant of the power, of the insistence of advertisement. I can understand allowing ads on a cherished site but not, never if the advertiser is Google, when we know that this company ads everlasting tracking to analysis and advertisement. Myself, far more than blocking what can be, I practically don’t call anymore any of Google’s services. I’m fed up with them, and not only with them, stated first because being first is their aim.

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