File Under: Browsers

Future Firefox to Offer More Social, Privacy Choices

Image: Mozilla

The recent release of Firefox 20 means that Mozilla has also updated the various Firefox testing channels — Beta, Aurora and Nightly.

If you’d like to see what’s coming in future versions of Firefox you can grab pre-release versions from Mozilla’s channel downloads page. If you’d like to try out the bleeding edge, you can grab a copy of Firefox Nightly.

Firefox 21 — the current Beta Channel build — features a new option for the Do Not Track privacy header. The Do Not Track header is a proposed web standard for browsers to tell servers that the user does not want to be tracked by advertisers. Instead of the simple “do not track me” or “tracking is okay” options in current releases, Firefox 21 will add a third choice — nothing. That is, starting with Firefox 21, you’ll be able to choose not to decide, effectively turning off the Do Not Track broadcast signal.

Unfortunately, as we’ve highlighted in the past, from a user privacy standpoint Do Not Track is, thus far, pretty much a failure all around. The idea is sound, but because most online ad companies are not planning to interpret the “Do Not Track” header to mean “stop collecting data” and instead plan to simply stop showing you targeted ads, while continuing to collect data and track what you’re doing on the web, whether or not the header is on or off makes little difference to your actual privacy.

Firefox’s Aurora Channel, which has just been updated to Firefox 22, has a more useful privacy enhancement — a setting to only allow cookies from sites you’ve visited. That way you limit cookies (and thus tracking) to sites you actually use.

Aurora will also likely be the first version of Firefox to support the new CSS Flexible Box Model (AKA Flexbox) syntax. See our recent post on using Flexbox for more on how true layout tools promise to change the way web developers work.

Other new features in Aurora include some new developer tools like a font inspector and a download progress indicator in the OS X Dock. See the Firefox 22 release notes for more details.

Provided you’re willing to live with some instability you can grab the latest Firefox Nightlies, which will soon be updated to add some more services to Mozilla’s Social API (currently the Social API only supports Facebook). Unfortunately the new providers aren’t exactly the hottest social networks around, but if you’re using CliqZ, Mixi, MSN Now or Weibo, you’ll soon be able to connect to your friends within Firefox.

Firefox’s various channels are updated every six weeks, which means — assuming no show stopping bugs are found — the features currently in the beta channel will be part of the official release in mid May. Current Aurora features should arrive in final form sometime in early July.