Your anxiety over your privacy online can now come with a running score.
An update to Mozilla Firefox shipped last week augments the tracking protection enabled earlier in that web browser by adding a report card that tallies all of the tracking attempts blocked over your last week online.
The total in a copy of Firefox running in Windows 10 that had been used for five of the last seven days: 3,078 trackers.
Most, 2,678, came from online advertising networks and analytics firms. Another 287 came from social networks: Facebook and Twitter use embedded widgets on sites such as USA TODAY’s to profile their users, a tactic Apple began blocking in its Safari browser last year.
This copy of Firefox also caught 112 “fingerprinting” attempts, in which sites attempt to track users by collecting data points about their browsing configuration instead of dropping a “cookie” file. And Firefox blocked one case of embedded content that itself included some sort of tracking mechanism.
This update to that free, open-source browser also makes it easier to check which sorts of trackers populate any one site by breaking out those placed by social networks and those set by advertising and analytics firms. To see, click or tap the purple shield icon at the left of the address bar.
A copy of Firefox running in Windows 10 reported that USA TODAY’s home page unsuccessfully attempted to place three social-media trackers, two from Twitter and one from Facebook. It also counted 10 advertising and analytics trackers blocked.
But that second list also revealed that half of these trackers were standard-issue site-analytics tools from New Relic and Chartbeat that help site owners gauge visitor interest. Mozilla uses Google Analytics on its own site for the same purpose — and Firefox blocks that as well.
On a Mac, meanwhile, Firefox reported not 10 but 94 cross-site trackers at USA TODAY, including many set by such ad networks as Taboola and Google’s DoubleClick subsidiary.
Firefox’s primary competitor in the market for privacy-enhanced browsing is Safari, and with this update it sets up an interesting contrast.
Apple says it will err on the side of blocking all cross-site tracking — as determined by an algorithm each copy of Safari runs — even if that may break legitimate site functions. But Safari offers no hint of which trackers it blocks aside from the dialog it presents when interrupting social-media widgets like Facebook’s “like” and “share” buttons.
Firefox, meanwhile, relies on a list of trackers maintained by the web-privacy firm Disconnect and lets users see which ones it blocks at any site. Mozilla, a non-profit, also makes a point of saying it doesn’t want to break the ability of sites to make money from ads.
Analysts have worried that Mozilla and Apple will do just that by going too far in stopping anything that looks like surveillance, even if it’s standard site analytics. In August, Stratechery analyst Ben Thompson warned against “an absolutist approach” that would kill smaller ad firms and keep Google and Facebook atop the online ad industry.
What about the browser Google ships and which a large majority of the web uses, Chrome? Back in May, Google executives said they would add vaguely-described privacy controls to the browser but didn’t offer a shipping estimate beyond a blog post saying “We will preview these new features later this year.”
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