Firefox is one of the OG browsers that’s known for its feature-rich, privacy-focused, and open-source nature. But in the past few years, the company has made many questionable decisions leading to the loss of its user base to other privacy-focused, open-source browsers. Let’s look at the current issues with the Firefox browser, how you can fix them, and which are your other options.
Firefox Now Has Ads in the Address Bar
In September 2021, Firefox launched a new feature called Firefox Suggest. Now when you search for anything in the address bar, Firefox can recommend stuff that can be useful to you as you type. The problem is some of the content that appears in suggestions are from partners and they are sponsored. In other words, ads.
To make it run, Firefox also collects some user info such as search queries, engagement with suggestions, and city-level location. It also passes some of the anonymous data to its partners. Though they are using lean data practices and data privacy principles, it isn’t what users were expecting.
Telemetry Was Enabled By Default Without Letting Users Know
To make the user experience better, Firefox collects info about crash reports and other technical and interaction data as is commonly done by most apps. But apart from that the browser also collects info about the operating system, display resolution, etc. Firefox uses unique identifiers in its installer to understand how many people are downloading the installer and how many people are actually installing it. Firefox uses all this data to recommend personalized extensions to users.
There are no claims about Firefox using the data in the wrong way. Having said that, ideally, Firefox should let users know about this during the setup process itself. Also, the feature should be disabled by default and if not, then that should be conveyed to the user as well.
Includes Third-Party Closed Source Software
Firefox comes with the Pocket extension preinstalled. While the extension works great and we love it, it is a closed-source product and may not resonate with all Firefox users, many of whom are here for privacy and security. Not to mention, Firefox also uses Google as the default search engine which is of course a closed-source product. However, you can switch to a different search engine like DuckDuckGo which is more private in nature.
Though you can remove them, it goes against the idea of being an open-source product. While the Firefox browser itself is open-source, some aspects of it are not.
What Can We Do About It
The easy way is to use another browser that’s privacy-focussed and not plagued by these issues. One browser that I can recommend is Librawolf. It is a Firefox fork, runs on Gecko, and looks like a Firefox browser too. The advantage is that there are no ads, no telemetry is enabled by default, and no closed-source products are packed into it. It is available on all desktop OSes but lacks mobile apps.
If you don’t mind using a Chromium browser, a better alternative is using the Brave browser. It is open source and runs on blockchain. As an added advantage, the performance is also faster than any gecko browser.
We have done an in-depth comparison between Brave and Firefox.
But if you prefer to use Firefox, no worries. We can change Firefox’s default settings to make it private and secure again, as close to as it was before.
1. First, let’s stop the ads in the address bar. To do that, click on the hamburger menu at the top right corner and select the Settings option to open Firefox Settings.
2. Now select Search from the left sidebar and then scroll down to the Search suggestions section. Here turn off Provide search suggestions.
3. To stop telemetry that is enabled by default, open Firefox settings > Privacy & Security and turn off all three options under Firefox Data Collection and Use.
4. You can remove the Pocket extension by right-clicking on the Pocket icon and clicking on Remove from Toolbar option.
5. Now open Firefox Settings > Home and turn off Recommended by Pocket option.
6. Finally you can change the search engine from Firefox Settings > Search and under Default Search Engine. Choose your preferred search engine here.
Apart from that, there are other ways to improve your privacy on Firefox. Everything cannot be configured from Settings. But you can make some changes from the about:config page on Firefox. Open the config page by entering about:config in the address bar and press Enter. Then click on Accept the Risk and Continue.
Now search for each of the following preferences and set their value accordingly as provided.
devtools.onboarding.telemetry.logged = false toolkit.telemetry.updatePing.enabled = false browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.feeds.telemetry = false browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.telemetry = false browser.ping-centre.telemetry = false toolkit.telemetry.bhrPing.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.firstShutdownPing.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.hybridContent.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.newProfilePing.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.reportingpolicy.firstRun = false toolkit.telemetry.shutdownPingSender.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.unified = false toolkit.telemetry.updatePing.enabled = false toolkit.telemetry.reportingpolicy.firstRun = false toolkit.telemetry.unified = false toolkit.telemetry.archive.enabled = false devtools.onboarding.telemetry.logged = false toolkit.telemetry.bhrPing.enabled = false datareporting.healthreport.uploadEnabled = false datareporting.policy.dataSubmissionEnabled = false datareporting.sessions.current.clean = true datareporting.healthreport.uploadEnabled = false datareporting.policy.dataSubmissionEnabled = false datareporting.sessions.current.clean = true
You can select a value like True or False by double clicking on them.
1. To get started, first open Github page, click on the green Code button at the top and then click on Download ZIP.
2. Once downloaded, extract the zip file according to your OS and preferred app. You should find the user.js master folder.
3. Open the folder and copy all the files in this folder.
4. Now open about:profiles page from the address bar in Firefox. Now in the default profile, click on the Show in folder or Show in Finder button beside Root Directory.
5. Then paste all the files into the root directory of the profile.
That’s it, all the changes will be applied automatically. It also changes the screen resolution to the most commonly used 1800×900. Screen resolution is one of the commonly used data points by companies to track users by fingerprinting. By changing the resolution to something that is commonly used, we can reduce the uniqueness of our device and specification.
It hides your OS and changes to Windows 10 as it is the most commonly used OS. It also changes all the device info. You can confirm by opening DeviceInfo site.
Bringing Firefox Back
Firefox may not have all settings to our liking by default. But it gives us enough opportunity to disable what we do not want. With a few minutes of tinkering, you can improve privacy and reduce tracking activities on Firefox. With the help of the user.js file, we can stop fingerprinting too. To take this one step further, try these Firefox extensions that improve your privacy.
That’s the beauty of open-source but for the less savvy, it takes away from the experience. Ideally, we like Brave’s approach better where ads and trackers are turned off by default, even ads, and tokens. You can enable them manually if you want to earn while surfing.