FastForward add-on has been silently removed from Mozilla's AMO
The popular link shortener, intermediary page skipping add-on, FastForward has been removed from Mozilla's AMO. It is unclear why the extension was delisted.
For those unaware of it, FastForward was created as a fork of an old add-on called Universal Bypass that was discontinued. Both extensions were designed to circumvent sites that displayed timers before redirecting you to the actual URL. Such sites are infamous for tracking users on the web.
What made these extensions special was a feature called "Crowd Bypass", an optional feature that relies on an online database to help users skip intermediary links on various websites. It did so by gathering the intermediary page URL, the destination URL, and a hash of the user's IP address. So when you enabled the feature you would be giving the information to the database when you came across such pages, similarly it would also let you bypass pages based on the details that were provided by other users. That is quite useful as it not only saves some time, but also protects your privacy, like an ad-blocker would.
Why was FastForward removed from Mozilla's add-on store?
Update: FastForward's developers have explained why the add-on was removed. Mozilla had contacted them regarding the Manifest V2 version of the extension which was pulling bypasses from a file called injection_script.js, to help users skip the intermediary links. Unfortunately this was violating Mozilla's terms of services, which explicitly forbids remote code execution.
The developers say that Mozilla were reasonable, and that they could not respond to the reviewer's query on time, which resulted in the add-on's suspension.FastForward plans to include the bypasses in the extension itself, but this will only be supported in the Manifest V3 versions. The downside to this is that the bypasses won't be updated automatically, and will require the extensions to be updated frequently. A new version of the add-on is being worked upon, and will be submitted to Mozilla's add-ons store soon. End
According to a recently closed issue on FastForward's GitHub, Mozilla has suspended the add-on. Refer to the image for the original version and the translation. The contributor had also told the user that the extension will be updated and available soon. That was posted 2 days ago. At this point, we are not sure why the add-on has been removed.
This is where things become confusing, FastForward's developer account has been removed completely from the AMO. So, will the extension return or not? The add-on's project page on GitHub says that it was banned from the Chrome Web Store last year, and one of the contributors had said that it was likely due to the "Crowd Bypass" server not having a valid SSL certificate, and that it would be back soon. However, that came to no avail, as the web extension is still not available at Chrome's Web Store.
The GitHub page has a screenshot of the email that FastForward received from Google, where the Mountain View company had accused the extension of bypassing paywalls and other restrictions. To be specific, Google had taken exception to the add-on bypassing URLs from "Linkvertise". I dug around this a bit and found some interesting information. Apparently, Linkvertise wanted to sue Universal Bypass, and this resulted in some changes made to the extension's code, which eventually led to its discontinuation. References on Internet Archive: Universal Bypass issue #1951, and a commit.
Would this have something to do with FastForward's suspension as well?
For what it's worth, I still have the add-on installed in Firefox, it wasn't disabled remotely. I think that's a sign that it's not harmful, the fact that the add-on is still available on Microsoft Edge store also seems to suggest that. You may install FastForward manually in the Developer and Nightly channels of Firefox. The extension can also be sideloaded on Chrome and other Chromium based browsers.
I'm curious why Mozilla has banned the add-on. Was it suspended for violating some terms of services? Did they find some privacy issues in it? Or was the extension hit by a DMCA? If that was the issue, then the developer would have been provided an opportunity to counter the claim. Mozilla has left users guessing about the whole situation, and that is not doing it any favors. It needs to be more transparent, or face the blame. If an add-on did something suspicious, it is Mozilla's responsibility to educate users about the impact it may have caused. Or if it was removed for legal reasons, just put a statement on the add-on's listing.
Mozilla removed the Bypass Paywalls Clean extension from its add-on repository last month, without initially providing information about the removal. A spokesperson for the non-profit organization later told us that the add-on in question was hit by a copyright notice, and that it had not received a counter-notice from the developer.
Removing an add-on to protect the privacy and security of users is always welcome, but an explanation should be provided for the same, case in point, the banning of FVD Speed Dial. I also believe the developers should provide some information about the same on their part too, to inform their users about what happened.
What do you think about all these silent removals?