Whenever we use the internet, there’s a lot going on under the hood that users aren’t aware of. Well, they’re aware something is happening, but they don’t know what it is, whether it has any value and what it means about companies purchasing their data. Many have gotten used to the fact, that if they look at a pair of shoes, those shoes will magically show up on their social media feed. As long as an ad isn’t being displayed on their bedroom window, many aren’t bothered, although some definitely are!
Simply put, people just want to use the internet and not care about the mechanics. Which is how it should be: the perfect internet wouldn’t need users to worry all the time. We don’t have that perfect internet, so modern users want more control, disclosure and awareness about what data is being mined from them. It’s not necessarily about getting to know all the intricacies that go on behind the scenes, that are very difficult to understand if you’re not a developer. It’s about making the issues understandable and bringing them out in the open, so users can keep using the internet in the same ways, while understanding the value exchange they’re a part of.
The major browser that has taken the most steps in this direction is Firefox. Mozilla’s motto is ‘Internet for people—not profit,’ which attracts the sort of developers or programmers with similar thinking.
Giving Users Control by Default
Default is the keyword here. This is the current difference between Firefox and other major browsers. For example, Google Chrome has many default settings that are designed to collect user data. Of course, users can edit these settings to stop websites from tracking them but it’s not assumed, and takes input from the user—a vast majority of people will never change these settings, and Google make bank on that fact. Many users don’t want to learn to handle fiddly intangible tech configuration, they want to relax and enjoy browsing in their spare time. Earlier this year Firefox rolled out its Enhanced Tracking Protection which meant that many privacy settings would now be turned on by default—if you were to download Firefox today, every site you visit would have all tracking pixels and cookies blocked.
Effectively, this sets a new standard for online privacy—privacy as a given. Privacy is a top priority concern, which has resulted in many new companies creating new complex pieces of technology as a solution. The problem being that, if you have to install or buy this piece of technology, it’s already too far distanced from the user. The modern expectation is that privacy should come by default, rather than be something you have to buy, or put the technical effort in to gain.
So, why is Firefox different to Chrome? Both browsers are very popular and share many similar functions, the distinction lies in the models they’re built on—one is for-profit, one is nonprofit. Google is a for-profit corporation in which its revenue is largely dependent on collecting user data and selling it. Mozilla is nonprofit, which allows Firefox to better align its purpose with users. Firefox is also totally open-source; while Chromium is open-source, Chrome isn’t—it’s not as fully a browser of the people.
What Else Can Firefox Offer?
The following extensions aren’t installed by default. However, they’re all great tools for gaining more control over your online privacy. They also take little effort from the user after installing.
Lockwise: Firefox’s efforts to create a more private user experience goes beyond blocking data miners. From a privacy perspective, its recent release Lockwise helps sync all of your passwords on any iOS or Android device. It also makes it really easy to manage which websites are saving your password, which is useful if you prefer to only have your password remembered by those sites you visit frequently.
Firefox Monitor: this service informs you if any of your information has been exposed during a data breach. You can also search for any past breaches and you’ll receive notifications that inform you whether a website you visit has been breached and whether you were affected.
Facebook Container: this extension helps you create a boundary between Facebook tracking, without causing you to use Facebook any differently. This extension creates a container for you to operate within when using social media, where anything you do within the container (likes or shares) can’t be recorded by Facebook or Mozilla. However, if you were to click on a link that went beyond Facebook, you’ve left the container and that activity can be tracked. The one thing Mozilla can see is how many times you’ve installed or removed the extension.
Firefox Private Network (VPN): Recently Firefox announced that it would be creating its own VPN. Currently it’s in beta, is free and only available to users within the US. The words “currently free” suggests it may become a paid extension in the future. This isn’t a surprise as it was also recently announced that paid subscription service would be coming to Firefox (Firefox Premium). It seems very likely that this VPN will be limited to the premium version.
The Deal With Firefox Premium
Considering all the talk about privacy being standard, the idea of a premium version where users can be more secure doesn’t mesh very well. The problem being that a tiered browsing service takes things back to the idea that if users want better security, they have to pay for it.
The idea of Firefox premium is currently in debate by users, for the most part it’s been received positively and a lot of variables are being discussed that will influence how useful it is to some users. Users are happy to pay, but they want to know where their money is going and how it will come back to benefit them. Generally, when people pay for something, they want their voice to be heard, and for those services to become more useful for them.
Still, we shouldn’t forget that the current free version of Firefox is raising the standard for user privacy compared to other major browsers and is making users aware of the value of the data they output. As more users begin to take control of their privacy and browsing, they gain a better idea of the benefits of different browsers, and the idea of paying for a subscription service in order to have more control over their browsing experience may become more reasonable to a wider audience.
Users are Changing
Privacy has always been important online, but not until recently—after several major scandals—has it entered mainstream discourse. The modern user is more aware that they’re constantly being mined for data. Some will do their best to take back their privacy, while many simply expect it. Browsers such as Firefox are now taking it upon themselves to meet this expectation, while showing them how they can gain more control and create a more valuable browsing experience.
I hope this piece broadened your browsing horizons and gave you an idea of what you can expect or how you can take more control of your online privacy. If you’re interested, consider reading a beginner’s guide to software testing or An Honest Guide to SEO in 2019.