Data collection for Firefox
The Firefox browser has been widely known for its respect for user’s privacy. One famous feature of the browser is its Opt-In telemetry setting. This is a setting that enables users to allow Mozilla to gather browser data from its customers. Online data collection is a common practice that a lot of software and website developers use nowadays so as to gain revenue through the online marketing industry or to simply keep statistics of what their customers prefer which helps for the further development of the website or the software product. What’s important about Firefox is that the data-collection feature is disabled by default and only if an user would like to allow it, would go to the settings of the browser and turn it on, hence “Opt-in”.
Why Mozilla deems the change necessary?
As privacy-friendly as the Opt-In policy is, it has lead to certain problems for Mozilla, namely, the lack of usable user data since very few users would actually go out of their way in order to enable the telemetry Opt-In clause. The shortage of usage data makes it more difficult for the developers of Firefox to issue positive changes and improve the browser since the information they receive from their users is not representative of the whole userbase of the browser. Due to this, developers at Mozilla have started a project towards the introduction of a Opt-Out clause which would replace the Opt-In one. Currently, the idea is still being discussed and tests are being prepared so as to see the feedback from users and the overall effectiveness from the new feature. If the new clause gets introduced, the difference would be that now the information collection would be enabled by default once the browser is installed.
Within the upcoming weeks, Mozilla is set to carry out tests, studying the reactions from users towards the new Opt-Out clause and determine the future of this feature. However, even from now, the majority or responses are primarily negative – most users are not pleased with the upcoming change due to the reduced privacy they would get. There is an open discussion in Google Groups where Mozilla engineers have disclosed the upcoming change. The change in the telemetry method is set to implement the so called RAPPOR (Randomized Aggregatable Privacy-Preserving Ordinal Response) technology which supports differential privacy and heavily focuses on preserving the user’s privacy even when personal usage data is being collected. The same method is used by the Google Chrome when gathering user information related to the usage of the browser. The developers at Mozilla assure their users that their privacy would still be protected against potential abuse yet it is understandable that a lot of people are against the changes and would be dissatisfied if the new clause gets permanently embedded within the Firefox browser.