File Under: Software & Tools

Firefox to Embrace Porn With New ‘Private Browsing’ Mode

FirefoxMozilla is jumping on the latest privacy bandwagon, with developers already working hard to ensure a new private browsing feature ships in Firefox 3.1, due to arrive at the end of 2008.

Private browsing, or “porn mode” as it’s often referred to, since that’s one of the more obvious uses, restricts the information that your browser gathers as you visit websites. Cookies are rejected, URLs are kept out of the browser history, forms are not auto-filled and pages are not cached.

The result is a browser session that — from the browser’s point of view — never happened.

While the cynical might claim that the major use for private browsing is porn, there are some other times it comes in handy — on public computers, for instance, where you don’t want the browser tracking your banking or e-mail logins.

Apple’s Safari browser pioneered the idea, shipping with a private browsing mode nearly three years ago, but more recently the Internet Explorer team announced that IE 8 will ship with “InPrivate” and Google’s new Chrome web browser offers an “Incognito” mode, which both behave similarly to Safari’s original idea.

That leaves Firefox as one of the only major browsers without a privacy mode. But fear not my porn-browsing Webmonkeys, Mozilla is on the case. In fact, private browsing mode was planned for Firefox 3, but dropped due to what Mozilla called, “more pressing issues.” Luckily, developers have already outlined their goals for a privacy mode in Firefox 3.1, which means it will most likely make the beta code freeze scheduled for the end of September. According the Mozilla wiki, Firefox 3.1 private browsing mode will offer the following features:

  • Any cookies acquired during the private session will be stored only in memory and flushed when the session ends.
  • Visited sites will not be stored to the browser’s history and visited links will not be colored as such.
  • Autofill features will be disabled and Firefox will not prompt you to save any new passwords.
  • Any downloads will be flushed from browser’s download manager.
  • All authenticated sessions will be logged out when you enter and leave private mode.

For more details on how each of the features will be handled, check out the Mozilla wiki where developers are hashing out the particulars. Gregg Keizer of ComputerWorld also has more detail on the backstory.

One very nice feature in both IE 8 and Google’s Chrome browser is the ability to have private mode tabs alongside normal mode tabs, something that currently isn’t possible in Safari and isn’t in the plans for Firefox 3.1 either.

Of course if you don’t want to wait for Firefox 3.1 to get your private browsing features, there are some Firefox add-ons that can handle the job in Firefox 3 right now. The Stealther add-on is one possibility, but Distrust offers some extra controls like per-session preferences.

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