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Mozilla Boosting Firefox Browsing Privacy

Future versions of the Firefox Web browser could provide users with new ways to block online site elements that track visitors’ behaviors. Mozilla, the organization that develops Firefox, said it is currently experimenting with a private browsing update and other new features in pre-beta versions of its browser being tested by developers.

The new features are currently being taken for a test drive on the Firefox Developer Edition for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well on Firefox Aurora for Android. In addition to promising users greater control over their private browsing settings, the updates also require that newly installed add-ons meet Firefox’s online safety guidelines and criteria by default.

Mozilla is also working on several new features that could be available for testing soon, including new options for parents who want to control their children’s online browsing and updates for Firefox’s Skype-like Hello for online video and voice communication.

Blocking Online Behavior Tracking

“Our hypothesis is that when you open a Private Browsing window in Firefox you’re sending a signal that you want more control over your privacy than current private browsing experiences actually provide,” Mozilla said Friday in a post on its Future Releases blog. “The experimental Private Browsing enhancements ready for testing today actively block Web site elements that could be used to record user behavior across sites.”

Those elements could include services for content, analytics, social and other purposes “that might be collecting data without your knowledge,” Mozilla said. Blocking such elements could make a Web site appear broken, but users can unblock those elements if they want the site to behave normally, the company said.

The just-released pre-beta version of Firefox also features a Control Center that puts site security and privacy controls in a single place. Mozilla is inviting developers and early adopters who try out the test version of private browsing to submit their comments and feedback.

Growing Demand for Ad Blocking, Other Tools

While most major browsers offer users options for enhanced privacy settings, they tend to focus on preventing multiple users on the same computer from viewing one another’s browsing histories and activities. For example, Microsoft‘s new Edge browser, which was released at the end of July as part of the Windows 10 operating system update, features an InPrivate browsing mode that deletes a user’s history, temporary files and cookie data at the end of a session.

During a browsing session, however, other elements on a Web site might track a user’s behavior for advertising or analytics purposes. A growing number of Internet users have begun adopting ad-blocking and other tools to avoid some of these elements as they have become more invasive or increasingly interfere with the browsing experience.

Earlier this month, for example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and several partners announced a stronger “Do Not Track” (DNT) setting policy standard for Web browsing. Among the other companies teaming up for the effort are the privacy company Disconnect, the online publisher Medium, the analytics service Mixpanel, the search engine DuckDuckGo and AdBlock. Shortly afterward, the EFF also released a new privacy-enhancing browser extension called Privacy Badger 1.0.

Tools like DNT and Privacy Badger let Internet users “make their desires about online tracking known to the Web sites they visit and to enforce those desires by blocking stealthy online tracking and the exploitation of their reading history,” said EFF’s chief computer scientist Peter Eckersley.

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