Firefox’s address bar has become an ad-packed privacy nightmare
Mozilla has just released Firefox 93 and there is an important and controversial change in the address bar. Not content with making helpful suggestions from your browsing history as you type, Firefox Suggest now also includes “relevant suggestions” and “sponsored suggestions” from “trusted partners”; in other words, announcements.
There are privacy concerns associated with these suggestions. Mozilla may insist that it only deals with partners who meet its privacy standards for Firefox, but that still means anything typed in the address bar is sent back to Mozilla and processed in order to run ads that it hopes you will click. The good news is that you can turn off Firefox Suggest and hide ads in Firefox.
Mozilla should be aware that inserting ads into its browser would be controversial, but the company justifies the addition by saying that it “helps fund the development and optimization of Firefox.”
The data collected is revealed in a supporting document:
Mozilla collects the following information to feed Firefox Suggest when users have opted for contextual suggestions.
– Search queries and suggest impressions: Firefox Suggest sends Mozilla search terms and engagement information with Firefox Suggest, some of which can be shared with partners to provide and improve suggested content.
– Clicks on suggestions: When a user clicks on a suggestion, Mozilla receives a notification that the suggested links have been clicked.
– Site: Mozilla collects city-level location data as well as research to properly respond to location-sensitive queries.
Mozilla goes on to explain how data is managed and shared, saying:
Mozilla approaches the management of this data conservatively. We take care to delete data from our systems as soon as it is no longer needed. When transmitting data to our partners, we take care to provide the partner with only the minimum information necessary to provide the functionality.
A specific example of this principle in action is the search location. The location of a search is derived from the IP address of the Firefox client. However, the IP address can identify a person much more precisely than is necessary for our purposes. So we convert the IP address to a more general location immediately after receiving it, and we remove the IP address from all downstream datasets and reports. Access to machines and data sets (temporary, short-lived) that may include the IP address is very restricted and limited to a small number of administrators. We do not enable or allow analysis of data that includes IP addresses.
It all sounds terribly noble, but there will be a lot of Firefox users who worry about what these ads and the associated data collection mean for their privacy. If you have these concerns, here’s how to turn off Firefox’s suggestion and hide address bar ads:
- Click on the hamburger menu at the top right of Firefox and select Settings
- Move towards the Privacy and Security section
- Locate the Address bar – Firefox Suggest section and uncheck all boxes
- If you want to keep some of the useful features of the address bar suggestions without the privacy concerns and the ads, you can just uncheck Contextual research and his child option Include occasional sponsored suggestions