Mozilla Removes Sensitive Options from Firefox’s Preference Window

This seems like a bad move to me; I’d rather have a browser that trusts me to be smart enough to select my own preference options …

Mozilla employee Alex Limi published an interesting article in March 2013 about an analysis that he conducted about several preferences of the Firefox web browser that were publicly available. Checkboxes that kill your product highlighted several issues that were caused by modifying preferences in the browser including some that rendered the browser unusable.

Limi’s conclusion was that Mozilla needed to take a close look at the preferences currently listed in Firefox’s settings dialog to decide on a per-preference basis whether it made sense to remove it from that dialog.

Lets take a look at the options that Limi mentioned in his analysis:

  • Load images automatically – Found to make websites less usable, Google’s search form for instance is not highlighted anymore so that it can’t be seen on the page.
  • Enable JavaScript – This disables functionality on many sites. NoScript users can probably relate to that best as the extension is blocking JavaScript and other scripts on all sites they visit for the first time by default.
  • Turning off the navigational toolbar – Removing the navigational toolbar from standard Firefox installations removes the means to interact with the browser as it removes the only toolbar available in the browser.
  • Turning off SSL and TLS – The majority of secure websites and services will fail if one or both of the options are turned off.
  • The certificate manager – Removing the wrong certificate can result in many security related issues.
  • Override automatic cache management – According to Limi a way to slow down the Firefox web browser.

While changes to some of these preferences may have an effect on the browsing experience and usability, I’d prefer them to stay available in the browser. For me, it is like saying “our users can’t be trusted with making decisions on their own, therefore we need to make decisions for them”. While I never touched the SSL or TSL setting, I’d like other options to remain accessible in the browser. Lets take overriding cache management as an example. While it may slow down the browser, it also provides users with an option to prevent the browser from saving files to the cache. While there are other ways to achieve the same goal, running the browser in private browsing mode, using a RAM disk as the cache location or clearing the browser’s history on exit, I think it is something that users should be able to decide on their own.

If you are using the latest Nightly version of the Firefox web browser, which is at version 23 right now, you may have noticed that Mozilla has started to remove some of the preferences mentioned above from the browser.

Take a look at the following preference screenshots and see if you can spot the settings that Mozilla removed in the browser.

firefox no javascript images

firefox remove tabbar

The first image shows that the options to disable the loading of images and the loading of JavaScript have been removed, the second screenshot shows that the option to hide the tabbar has been removed as well.

Some of these options are still available on a per-site basis. You can right-click and select View Page Info, and there permissions to allow or block images for example.

Some of the settings are also available when you open the about:config dialog. To disable JavaScript for example, simply search for javascript.enabled and double-click the preference to set it to false.

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