“Scandal” might be overstating things a bit, but it turns out that Firefox’s new, privacy-oriented mobile browser isn’t as private as one might assume.
Firefox Focus: the privacy browser, is a free mobile browser for iOS devices by Mozilla designed to protect user privacy while browsing the web. The app “improves the privacy and performance” of a user’s mobile browsing experience by “blocking analytics, social, and advertising trackers” according to the product description on Apple’s iTunes website. It furthermore enables you to erase the browsing history, passwords and cookies easily.
A content blocker by Mozilla, makers of Firefox and known proponents of user rights and privacy? That’s got to be good, right?
What you may not expect from the app, especially since it is designed to block analytic trackers, is that it is collecting data itself, and transfers the data it collects to third-party company Adjust.
Update: We were contacted by Mozilla PR Germany. The linked article has several factual errors according to the statement. Relevant for our article is:
- Firefox Focus does not track the browsing history, and does not process telemetry data that is not anonymized.
Mozilla asked the authors of the original article to correct it.
Firefox Focus: The privacy browser
Mozilla unveiled Firefox Focus back in November 2016. The organization introduced the mobile browser in the following way:
Today, we’re pleased to announce the launch of Firefox Focus – a free, fast and easy to use private browser for iOS.
Firefox Focus is set by default to block many of the trackers that follow you around the Web. You don’t need to change privacy or cookie settings. You can browse with peace of mind, feeling confident in the knowledge that you can instantly erase your sessions with a single tap – no menus needed.
If you open the settings of the application, you may stumble upon the opt-out preference “send anonymous usage data”. Telemetry collecting is not uncommon, even for organizations like Mozilla.
Mozilla’s Support website reveals information on the anonymous usage data collecting of Firefox and Firefox Focus on mobile devices.
What you learn there is the following:
- Mozilla uses a third-party software development kit by German company adjust GMBH that it built into Firefox Focus that is connected to a data collecting Internet service backend run by adjust GMBH.
- Data is sent to the adjust backend, not to Mozilla.
- For new installs, an “anonymous ‘attribution’ request is sent to adjust servers containing information on how the app was downloaded. Data includes an advertising ID, IP address, timestamp, country, language and locale, operating system, and app version.
- Firefox Focus furthermore sends anonymous summaries “occasionally” that reveal “how often the application has been used“. The summaries include information on “whether the app has been in active use recently and when”. Additionally, the data will reveal features of the application that have been used.
Adjust GMBH is a big data specialist known for tracking and analytics services.
Journalist Peter Welchering and Manfred Kloiber, and Comidio director Herrman Sauer decided to investigate the telemetry tracking of Firefox Focus (known as Firefox Klar in Germany).
According to the report, telemetry is not limited to what is listed above. The German newspaper article reveals that Firefox Focus collects browsing information, for instance server connections, and that data is sent to the third-party adjust, and not Mozilla.
Mozilla or adjust did not respond to inquiries according to Welchering. The journalists state that they did speak to Mozilla developers about the data tracking in Firefox Focus. These developers told the journalists that Mozilla is collecting the data to optimize the product.
Welchering notes in the article that anonymous and personally identifiable data is collected by Firefox Focus, and that adjust receives these identifiable bits of information.
Firefox Focus: turn of data collecting
You can turn off the anonymous data collecting of Firefox Focus by tapping on the settings icon, and flipping the switch next to “send anonymous usage data” to off.
The privacy focused browser and content blocker Firefox Focus is collecting and submitting telemetry data to adjust, a company that is big in the data collecting and analytics business.
This is something that you’d probably not expect from an organization like Mozilla, and something that Mozilla needs to address. (via Born)