Mozilla Expands Firefox's Myriad Privacy Features

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Coca-Cola used to be a cocaine-filled beverage available in exactly one flavor. Now the company's replaced the cocaine with vanilla, orange, cherry, diet, zero calorie, and who-knows-how-many combinations of each flavor. Mozilla's taken a similar approach with Firefox: It started as just a simple web browser, yet today the organization announced updates to its wide variety of privacy-focused features and services.

The first update introduces Enhanced Tracking Protection that blocks third-party tracking cookies by default. Mozilla said the feature will rely on a list of known trackers maintained by Disconnect and that, if everything works as expected, it should result in Firefox automatically blocking thousands of the technological creeps without user intervention. Sites can also be white-listed in case something breaks.

Facebook Container is like Enhanced Tracking Protection with a very specific target. (Kinda like how Coca-Cola took the very broad market of "people who like Vanilla Coke" and then decimated it by combining it with orange flavoring.) The add-on is made simply to prevent Facebook from tracking people's browsing activity, and Mozilla said it's been installed more than 2 million times since its March 2018 debut.

Today's update to Facebook Container allows the add-on to stop Facebook's trackers from working on sites that use its Share and Like buttons. Facebook Container stops those buttons from loading, which in turn prevents Facebook from indirectly gathering information about someone, with Mozilla claiming the add-on would make it much harder for the social networking company to create "shadow profiles."

Mozilla said the Enhanced Tracking Protection and Facebook Container updates are available now. (Enhanced Tracking Protection will roll out to all Firefox users in the coming weeks; it can also be manually activated in the browser's settings.) The only indication that either feature is active on a given site will be a green shield (Enhanced Tracking Protection) or purple fence (Facebook Container) icon in the address bar.

The organization also headed outside the browser with updates to the Firefox Lockwise--nee Lockbox--password manager and Firefox Monitor. In addition to rebranding the password manager, Lockwise brings the Lockbox ecosystem from Android and iOS devices to the desktop. It works like one would expect--people can use it to manage a saved list of passwords and then access those passwords anywhere.

Firefox Monitor debuted in September 2018 as a service that allowed people to receive notifications if their emails were hacked. The feature was developed in collaboration with the Have I Been Pwned? breach disclosure website. Rather than having to manually check the site whenever they fear a new data leak has occurred, Firefox Monitor users would get an email as soon as a monitored account was affected.

Mozilla said that more than 635,000 people have signed up for Firefox Monitor since its release. Now the organization has updated it with a "breach dashboard" that can be used to keep track of multiple email addresses. That was said to be one of the most-requested features for Firefox Monitor. Now it's here! And, unlike the Vanilla Orange Coke we mentioned earlier, we suspect its debut will be universally lauded.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.