Mozilla Launches Tracking Protection Feature in Firefox Nightly

Even though these capabilities have been available via add-ons for a while now, this is still a step in the right direction for privacy advocates …

Advertising and marketing companies use tracking to learn more about users that visit properties on the Internet that their services run on. Knowing more about users increases the profitability of advertisement which is the core reason why tracking is used so widely these days. Do Not Track was a first attempt to give control back to users but the main problem with the feature is that it is not mandatory.

Advertising companies can honor the Do Not Track setting of a browser but don’t have to.

Side note: if you are interested in finding out more, check out the following recent guides: what websites know about you and who can see your IP address on the Internet.

Mozilla launched a new experimental feature in Firefox Nightly, the cutting edge version of Firefox, as part of its Polaris initiative.

Tracking Protection is not enabled by default but when you enable it, it will improve user privacy on the Internet by using so called block lists of domains and sites that are known to track users. It is also enabling Do Not Track automatically.

Basically, it is blocking known tracking sites in the browser whenever sites try to make those connections. The first initial version of Tracking Protection uses the blocklist of Disconnect.

Turn on the tracking protection

You need to do the following to enable the Tracking Protection feature in the Firefox browser (note that it is only available in Firefox 36 Nightly currently):

  1. Type about:config in the address bar and hit enter.
  2. Search for browser.polaris.enabled.
  3. Double-click the entry to set it to true.
  4. Restart Firefox.

Make sure it is enabled

firefox tracking protection

Nothing changes after the restart right away. If you want to know if the operating worked out fine, do the following to test that:

  1. Tap on the Alt-key on the keyboard while Firefox is open.
  2. Select  Tools > Options from the menu.
  3. Switch to Privacy in the options window.

If you see Tracking – Prevent sites from tracking me there, you have successfully enabled Tracking Protection. There you can also disable it again at any time without having to open the about:config page to do so.

How it looks on sites with contents that track you

firefox tracking

When you visit a website that is tracking you directly or loading scripts that do, you will see a new icon in Firefox’s address bar next to the url.

When you click on it, it displays that elements on the site track your online activity and that the feature has disabled those elements.

There you can also enable these for the site in question which can be useful if they power other functionality on the site or if you don’t mind that those scripts are loaded on that particular site.

A click on the options button displays an option to disable the protection on that site.

Closing Words

What I like about the Tracking Protection feature is that it does not block advertisement completely but takes care of tracking domains only. As a webmaster who earns his living from advertisement, that is obviously better than getting ads blocked outright and not earning any money from users visiting the site.

The feature is experimental at the time though. An option to load and manage different tracking lists would be useful for example as you’d get more control over the feature in the process.

Mozilla’s Tracking Protection is not the first attempt at integrating block lists into web browsers natively though. Microsoft introduced a similar feature (enable lists, block or allow sites based on those lists) some time ago in Internet Explorer for example.

The feature itself is not really for experienced users either, as they are likely running add-ons or programs already that protect them from ads or tracking on the Internet.

Less tech-savvy users on the other hand may benefit from this.

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