Firefox will now block thousands of web trackers by default, protecting users from many websites, analytics companies, and advertisers that want to follow their paths across the web. The change should speed up the browser and keep users’ web habits more private, while nudging advertisers toward less invasive practices.
The changes are a big deal for privacy, but Mozilla doesn’t push the envelope quite as far as Apple did when it added a similar feature to Safari a couple years ago. Apple’s browser blocks nearly all third-party trackers by default, rather than just known trackers collected on a blacklist. Apple also limits tracker from being used by third parties at all if you haven’t interacted with the website they originate from in a full day.
Mozilla uses a targeted list to limit “potential usability issues”
Apple’s approach goes further to preserve privacy, but it may also mean more headaches for users. Many pieces of the web rely on cookies, a key tracking tool, to keep people logged in or serve them relevant information. By aggressively blocking cookies, Apple risks disrupting the experience on some websites, albeit with the benefit of severely limiting how much information about a user each website is able to access.
Mozilla is trying to strike a middle ground, by only blocking known trackers and not all cookies in general. A spokesperson says the company found that blocking all cookies “leads to scenarios where some websites may not function properly,” and so it chose this partial approach to prevent “potential usability issues.” Anyone who wants more protection can go into Firefox’s settings and change the tracking blocking settings from “standard” – the default setting – to “strict.”
Tracker blocking will be on by default for all new Firefox users starting today, and it’ll become the default for everyone already using Firefox in “the coming months.” If you already use Firefox and want to take advantage of the feature, which has been built-in since October, you can go into settings and enable it before Mozilla flips the switch for everyone.
While Firefox isn’t leading the pack when it comes to blocking trackers, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of Google’s Chrome browser, which is just starting to dabble in features that can limit tracking. Google has a vested interest in keeping some amount of web tracking alive – the company survives off of ads, which are often targeted – whereas Mozilla and Apple don’t, so Chrome is likely to continue lagging behind.