Is Mozilla Firefox Getting Sketchy?

Posted on October 9, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Mozilla Firefox with 28 Comments

Long the darling of the open-source crowd, Mozilla’s Firefox web browser has received some questionable updates in recent days. What the heck is going on?

This week, Mozilla released Firefox 93 and revealed that its flagship browser would come to the Microsoft Store in Windows 10 and 11 by the end of the year. But lost amid all that good news are two troubling updates that the organization quietly made to Firefox as well.

Both updates are part of a new feature called Firefox Suggest that’s currently only available in the United States. According to Mozilla, Firefox Suggest “serves as a trustworthy guide to the better web, finding relevant information and sites to help you accomplish your goals.” That sounds wonderful, but it’s enabled by default and Mozilla also notes that “you will also receive new, relevant suggestions from our trusted partners based on what you’re searching for.”

What? That sounds an awful lot like something Microsoft or Google might do, though the browser maker points out that “no new types of data are collected, stored, or shared to make these new recommendations.” Basically, Mozilla is going to display ads in the Firefox address bar.

You can at least turn it off. To do so, open the Firefox menu and navigate to Settings > Preferences > Privacy & Security > Address Bar – Firefox Suggest” and locate two commands, “Contextual suggestions” and “Include occasional sponsored suggestions.” Then, turn both of them off.

The second impact of Firefox Suggest is that the web browser will now collect your keystrokes and send them back to Mozilla, another Microsoft-like bit of functionality that’s aimed at making your searches better by providing search suggestions. And as How-To Geek points out, because Firefox, like all modern browsers, uses the address bar for searches and site address typing, Mozilla technically has access to anything you type there. (Firefox already sends those keystrokes to your default search engine, typically Google.)

Now, do we trust Mozilla more than Google? Of course we do. But in this suddenly privacy-conscious world, this behavior could be troubling to some users, including those who specifically chose this browser because it doesn’t engage in this kind of activity. (Kind of like a VW diesel car buyer who thought they were saving the world only to later learn they were destroying it.)

And the only way to prevent Firefox Suggest from collecting your keystrokes is to turn off the feature entirely. To do so, open the Firefox menu and navigate to Settings > Preferences > Privacy & Security > Address Bar – Firefox Suggest” and turn off all of the commands in that section. (Not just the two noted above.)

It’s unclear if these features were designed to make Firefox better or if there is some commerce-based endgame. But with its faltering usage share, Firefox is in trouble, and it’s not hard to imagine that Mozilla is considering some dubious steps to keep it afloat. So these kinds of additions are even more suspicious than they would be otherwise.

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Is Mozilla Firefox Getting Sketchy?”

  1. pachi

    What a downer, they definintely sneaked that in, thanks for the heads up! Disabled. i think if you disable the Search Suggestions under the Search section in Settings, which is basically autofill suggestions for your address bar searches and disable the options Paul wrote about in the Privacy & Security section you're likely not having anything sent to the search engine until you hit enter?


    I left browsing history and bookmarks enabled. If they're still sending keystrokes despite just local options enabled that would be pretty bad.


    They're quite clear about the commerce endgame. ha!

    Include occasional sponsored suggestions

    Helps fund Firefox development and optimization.

    • pachi

      Furthermore, I just skimmed over their blog post and they claim this is not enabled by default and you have to opt-in - this is false, as these options were absolutely selected by default on my browser:


      Contextual suggestions are enabled by default, but improved results through data sharing is only enabled when you opt-in. To check to see if if you opted-in, navigate to the Preferences page:

      1. Select Privacy & Security on the left and go down to the Address Bar — Firefox Suggest section.

      If you see “Contextual suggestions” checked with the string “Firefox will have access to your location, search queries, and visited sites”, you have opted in. If you do not see that label then the default experience is enabled with no new kinds of data sharing.



  2. erich82

    Their CEO also wants to silence all political opposition, so the big brother tactics aren't a total shock, perhaps even necessary to identify the rabble.

  3. Haha Privacy

    Ha ha y'all forget that you use ISP internet services provider, you ain't got no privacy they see everything you do over the internet plain text too, so between your operating system, internet provider, browser and what you do daily is farmed, logged in massive data centres if you think yourself privacy geek, Ur phone is always listening, and RFID is in everything oh boy feels bad man's whom reads this just ruined there day 😇 privacy and is greatest lie ever told. Covid bhllah google gene 4994 I was virtualising the genome to upgrade myself but looks like they trying to kill me off. I have the pseudo gene and Adhd, but would you like to see what data Mozilla sees sells they are doing exactly same as Google n Microsoft lols fools they make better idots, bring back Cyberfox.

  4. j5

    I've mixed feelings about this. I like Firefox and the company. I think it's good for the health of the internet and competition among the browsers and better for us consumers/users. Firefox needs to money to pay the bills and their employees, totally understand that. But I don't like they doing this without being transparent about it. It think they'd get more users of these money making features if they were like hey this is a way we can make some money to help keep the lights on.


    Also I think most of the outrage by it is from non Firefox users because long time actual users wouldn't flip out like this.

  5. proftheory

    They have been giving you suggested links on the start page for some time now this is just an expansion of what they have already been doing.

    A) I just turn them off

    B) I don't search from the address bar but use a link on the Bookmarks bar.

  6. roho

    I dropped Firefox more than a year ago. I've been using Brave now with no issues. Google and Edge are on my no fly list.

  7. scovious

    Can the keystroke capturing be turned off like with the ads in the address bar?

  8. navarac

    Big Tech is out of control. I don't trust any of it.

  9. doon

    Done, and thanks.

  10. bschnatt

    I think Mozilla should just adopt Chromium and get it over with. I know there's supposed to be something bad about only having a single, monolithic browser engine in use, but it's open source, so how bad could it be? Mozilla needs to gain market share by TRUE innovation, like what Vivaldi does. (I recently used Vivaldi for just this reason, but abandoned it because it's noticeably slower and heavier than Edge. I may revisit that in the future...) Browser makers *still* haven't found the "magic pill" to make lots of tabs work, but Vivaldi came pretty close. If Mozilla used Chromium and fixed *that* problem, then I might come knocking...

    • hometoy

      "...it's open source, so how bad could it be?"


      Open source is not the magic bullet to protect everything. Google is the principal developer and maintainer of Chromium. There was report of a person a few years back that detected in Chromium a "black box" that was pinging home that Google put in, and later removed from, Chromium.


      If Google employees control 51% of the decision making roles, then (Google) corporate interests could be accepted over other options. I don't know what the percentage is, but unless specified in their bylaws to be less, there is nothing stopping from this happening.


      Plus, if all browsers are based on Chromium, then hackers only have one target to effect everybody else. Remember the University that purposely submitted bad code to test whether it gets into the project (and it did)? Now imagine a paid hacker, or one working with a maintainer?


      Open Source just means if you break it, you get to keep the pieces.


    • Use_Your_Loaf

      "....Browser makers *still* haven't found the "magic pill" to make lots of tabs work"


      How many tabs do you consider "lots"?

    • asdfasedasdfasdf

      Agreed on the switching to Chromium. I use several browsers, Firefox included. But I'm increasingly running across sites that have trouble with Firefox. I hope a rewrite is going on behind the scenes.

    • compuser

      "I think Mozilla should just adopt Chromium ..." I read not too long after Microsoft released Chromium Edge that Chromium Firefox is in development.

  11. red.radar

    Man things are not looking good for Mozilla.


    I am surprised there is not an open source foundation that companies contribute too to support a standards based browser development. Similar to the Linux kernel.


    Maybe that is what chromium is….


    I guess it’s time to plan an exit strategy. I fear this isn’t going to get better

    • mikegalos

      There are. That's what all those standards organizations are.


      What you're asking for is the equivalent of an official Linux distro that's produced by the standards bodies and that is as unlikely to happen as an official open source distribution of a browser. For that matter, if it did exist, it's browser would fill that role and, for that matter, wouldn't be funding itself by selling things like the annual contract for "default search engine".


  12. bschnatt

    I'm glad you mentioned the VW scandal. I will NEVER buy a car from them, or Mercedes Benz or Audi (they have all been implicated in that). They literally committed a crime against humanity and got off easy. Pollution kills - there's no way to deny the science of that. If it were up to me, VW should have been forcibly shuttered and all the upper management jailed. But that's just me ;)


    NEVER FORGET

  13. ken10

    To keep a project of this important alive it takes money. Google now provides about $500M (3 year) in funding to the project. People want a return on their investment.

  14. sherlockholmes

    Thank God I am using Firefox 91 ESR.

  15. bill_russell

    I trust a company that is well funded, who doesn't need to start resorting to questionable sources of income, to be able to keep the lights on as Mozilla might be heading in that direction. I also trust google to be able to keep my files secure and my account not to be breached, as much as anyone. Other than that I am not sure what I shouldn't be trusting. (Yes, I know - not to show me ads based on "spying" or "violation of privacy", the horror)

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