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.