Websites are constantly tracking you, but Firefox has a fix

Mozilla Firefox has just expanded its range of features made to protect user privacy, this time attempting to tackle the issue of websites tracking you around the web. Whether we like it or not, the sad reality is that many web giants add trackers to URLs, which then allow them to monitor your online activity.

Added in Firefox 102, the new Query Parameter Stripping should address that problem in a substantial way — although we’re still far away from a complete fix.

The new privacy feature will not be enabled by default, but once you do enable it, it will begin stripping tracking parameters from URLs. Many companies add their own query parameters to outbound links listed on their websites. Adding the query parameter enables the company, be it Facebook (Meta), HubSpot, Marketo, or Olytics, to track clicks and subsequently, your web activity.

As an example, Facebook adds its own tracking to outbound links with a “fbclid” query, while Vero uses “vero_id=.” This often results in a long link, made much longer only for the purpose of tracking your web activity. Firefox will strip the links of all the nonsense and leave you with the raw URL that you actually want to visit. This will certainly remove a whole lot of trackers, but Brave still has the upper hand here, blocking even more than Firefox does.

Enabling the feature will allow Mozilla Firefox to remove the following tracking parameters from your links:

  • Facebook: fbclid=, mc_eid=
  • Vero: vero_id=
  • Drip: __s=
  • Olytics: oly_enc_id=, oly_anon_id=
  • HybSpot: _hsenc=
  • Marketo: mkt_tok=

How to enable Query Parameter Stripping in Firefox

The new feature is part of Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection, similar to the recently introduced Total Cookie Protection. In order to enable it, go into your Firefox Settings, click on Privacy & Security, and then toggle the Enhanced Tracking Protection to Strict.

Browsing in private mode, the feature will be disabled even if you enabled it otherwise. In order to activate it in private mode, type about:config in the Firefox address bar, then search for strip, and then toggle the privacy.query_stripping.enabled.pbmode setting to true.

If you’ve activated the feature and want to give it a spin, BleepingComputer prepared a test page that contains links to various websites with the query parameters added at the end. Once you’ve enabled Query Parameter Stripping, Firefox should automatically remove the trackers, sending you off to with no extra additions. BleepingComputer also notes that browsing with this feature enabled might cause some issues, so if you’re running into problems, you’ll have to disable it until Firefox finds a fix.

Mozilla Firefox image.
Mozilla Firefox’s new feature will ensure that users are not susceptible to tracking from websites. Mozilla

Firefox seems to be trying to niche down and maximize browser security and user privacy, which is something similar to the Brave browser. After once being one of the browsers responsible for dethroning Internet Explorer in the early 2000s, Firefox has slowly slipped into near-obscurity as Google Chrome started to dominate. According to Statcounter, Google Chrome holds the largest market share with 64.95% as of May 2022, followed by Safari with 19.01%, and Microsoft Edge with 3.99%. Firefox trails behind in fourth place with just 3.26%.

While Firefox’s glory days might be long gone, the browser still stands strong and presents an agreeable alternative for users who value browsing privacy. It might not top the charts, but it’s still among the best browsers available right now.

Editors’ Choice

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Mozilla FireFox 89 Brings a Long-needed Gorgeous New Look

Mozilla’s Firefox web browser has gotten a new look. Now rolling out in version 89 is a massive redesign, putting simplified design, cleaner menus, and tab pages front and center.

The biggest change to Firefox in years, Mozilla believes these visual updates will “get you where you want to go even faster.” That’s because the core experiences of the browser have all been updated so that things are easier to use — from the toolbar, streamlined menus, updated prompts, and a new floating tabs system.

The most significant of the changes that you’re likely to notice first is the new inspired tab design. In version 89, your tabs “float” at the top of the title bar, tucking tab information in a neat place, right where you need them. The tabs even have a more rounded design, helping to make moving tabs around a lot easier.

Tabs will no longer cramped together as they have been in previous releases. Visually, that is meant to pair up with calmer colors and lighter iconography throughout the user interface in the browser, making things feel more consistent as you click through menus.

Adding to that is a simplified browser toolbar. Mozilla has moved less frequently used items out of the toolbar, so you can focus on your navigation. That even ties right in with the more streamlined menus, which have been reorganized so that most used controls are where you need them. Even the labels have been updated, with removed iconography for a cleaner look.

Some of the other changes in Firefox 89 include updated prompts. It is now easier to understand and control things like the permissions for the webcam, and microphone, in a single hub. You even should see fewer prompts whenever you browse, as the release reduces the number of alerts and messages you see (for things such as notifications) so you can browse with fewer distractions.

If you’re not already seeing Firefox version 89, you can update it today in a couple of steps. Just click the menu button, and then choose Help followed by About Firefox. The About Mozilla Firefox window will open, and then Firefox should download the latest version. You’ll have to click Restart to update Firefox to apply it.

Editors’ Choice

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Tech News

SmartBlock feature lands with Firefox 87

Mozilla has announced the launch of its latest version of the popular Firefox browser. The new version is Firefox 87, and with its launch comes a new feature called SmartBlock aimed at improving privacy while browsing. SmartBlock is described as an intelligent tracker blocking mechanisms for Firefox Private Browsing and Strict Mode.

SmartBlock is designed to ensure strong privacy protections and that Firefox provides “a great web browsing experience.” Mozilla says it believes privacy is a fundamental right and that everyone deserves to have their privacy protected while they surf the web. Firefox has had features in place since 2015 to provide strong privacy, including the integrated Content Blocking feature that operates in Private Browsing and Strict Tracking Protection modes.

That feature automatically blocks third-party scripts, images, and other content from being loaded from cross-site tracking companies reported by Disconnect. The blocking of those scripts and other content prevents those companies from tracking users while surfing the web. The challenge with blocking trackers outright is that Firefox risks blocking components that are required for some websites to function properly.

The result is webpages that load with images that don’t appear, features not working, poor performance, or the page may not load all. This is where SmartBlock comes in by intelligently fixing webpages that are broken by tracking protections without compromising user privacy. SmartBlock can do that by providing local stand-ins from blocked third-party tracking scripts. Firefox says its stand-in scripts behave “just enough” the original tracking scripts that the website works properly.

Those scripts allow broken sites relying on the original scripts to load with functionality intact. SmartBlock scripts are bundled with Firefox, and no third-party content from the trackers is loaded at all. Mozilla is clear that there is no chance for the third-party content to track users and that the stand-in scripts Firefox loads don’t contain any code that supports tracking.

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Tech News

Firefox 86 brings Total Cookie Protection and multiple PiP support

They may sound delicious but when it comes to the Web, cookies are almost like poison. Sure, they technically serve an important purpose but, like the real-world treats, they can be abused to harm people. That’s why web browser makers are taking up arms against cookie abuse, each in their own way, and Mozilla’s latest attempt is to completely confine those cookies in their own jars starting with Firefox 86.

Cookies were supposed to be used simply to let sites remember your previous sessions for convenience. Over time, however, they have been misused and abused to become what is known as tracking cookies that keep an eye on where users go, often for the sake of creating targeted ads. While some browser makers like Google just try to mitigate or curb the reach of these cookies, Mozilla seems to be waging an all-out war on them.

Last month, Firefox 85 targeted Supercookies that followed users around even when they left the pages where the cookies were generated. For Firefox 86, Mozilla is implementing what it calls Total Cookie Protection which gives each website its own cookie jar instead of dipping into a single cookie pool that everyone has access to. In practice, this should minimize how far those cookies can go and stop them from tracking you once you move to other sites.

Firefox 86 also expands the Picture-in-Picture feature into multi-PiP. This allows users to yank out multiple videos from different tabs and have them playing simultaneously. Whether that’s actually a good or a bad thing for your sanity and productivity is a personal matter.

Firefox 86 has started to roll out but the Total Cookie Protection is available only on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It is part of Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection, which is enabled by default. Mozilla doesn’t elaborate whether these changes to how cookies work could have adverse effects on some websites that, unfortunately, require tracking cookies for one reason or another.

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Tech News

Firefox 85 puts an end to Supercookies and Flash

Some will say that cookies, at least most traditional cookies, are bad for your health and Web cookies have grown to become the same for your digital health. Created primarily to make it more convenient for users to revisit sites, again and again, the rather crude technology has been abused time and again to track users across the sites they visit. Browser makers are stepping up to fight such privacy invasions and the latest release of Firefox is designed to block another kind of cookie.

Recent updates to web browsers have focused on cross-site tracking cookies, those that follow you around even after you leave the original web page that generated it. Mozilla, however, names yet another kind of cross-site tracking it calls “Supercookie”, though it might as well be called “Zombie cookie”, too. In addition to following users around and fingerprinting them, these cookies are notorious for hiding in other parts of the browser and don’t get cleared along with other normal cookies.

Supercookies also take advantage of Firefox’s caching mechanism that tries to reduce the data bandwidth and time by reusing images or other resources that are shared or embedded across different sites. Unfortunately, this is also exactly how these Supercookies are able to fingerprint users by creating a unique identifier on one site that can then be checked again on another site when the same cached image is used.

Mozilla’s solution is to partition Firefox’s network state and local cache per site starting with version 85. This means that each site will now have its own image cache, for example, that only gets reused when visiting the same site but not when moving on to another site that uses the same image. This has the effect of pretty much isolating Supercookies but Mozilla does admit there is a very modest impact on page load times because of it.

Firefox 85 also spells the end for Adobe Flash, something that has been in the process for years already. It will no longer play Flash content and will offer no option to re-enable it. And you can forget about downgrading to an older version of Firefox to get around that as the Flash plugin itself has already stopped working at this point.

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