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Mozilla Testing an Opt-Out System For Firefox Telemetry Collection (bleepingcomputer.com) 227

An anonymous reader writes: "Mozilla engineers are discussing plans to change the way Firefox collects usage data (telemetry), and the organization is currently preparing to test an opt-out clause so they could collect more data relevant to the browser's usage," reports Bleeping Computer. "In a Google Groups discussion that's been taking place since Monday, Mozilla engineers cite the lack of usable data the Foundation is currently receiving via its data collection program. The problem is that Firefox collects data from a very small fraction of its userbase, and this data may not be representative of the browser's real usage." Mozilla would like to fix this by flipping everyone's telemetry setting to enabled and adding an opt-out clause. Engineers also plan to embed Google's RAPPAR project [1, 2] for anonymous data collection.
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Mozilla Testing an Opt-Out System For Firefox Telemetry Collection

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Firefox, faced with a shrinking user base after the extension extinction event that is Firefox 57 will monetize it's remaining users. Mozilla knows there are no good alternatives, Opera, Chrome, Microsoft, Apple, Vivaldi, Pale Moon all track users data in some way so they can get user data for money.

    • by courteaudotbiz ( 1191083 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @08:21AM (#55069167) Homepage
      If at least there is an actual option to opt out, that's still good news. Cause the only remaining users of MozFF are techies, so at least we can check or uncheck the necessary checkboxes.

      Ever tried to opt out of anything using Chrome?
      • If at least there is an actual option to opt out, that's still good news.

        Did you even read the summary????

        The problem Mozilla has is everyone has the telemetry turned off. They're going to turn it back on (without asking), and then give you the option to turn it off again (which shouldn't be necessary if it was already off).

  • In Other Words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @08:07AM (#55069107)

    Not enough people were choosing to compromise their privacy, so we're going to do it for them.

    • by thereitis ( 2355426 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @09:37AM (#55069553) Journal
      And yet Mozilla criticizes other organizations for their privacy. I guess Mozilla is just behind the curve and finally realizing the "goodies" that can be had simply by compromising their values like everyone else.

      Soon Mozilla will not have anything to differentiate them from everybody else.

      I guess you can tell a company's true character by their actions when hard times come.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @09:40AM (#55069573)

      Anybody who claims that Firefox protects their privacy probably hasn't actually looked at Firefox's privacy policy [mozilla.org].

      Below are some excerpts from the Firefox privacy policy that is dated July 31, 2017.

      Be sure to notice the type of information being collected and possibly even transmitted to third parties (including Google, some "Leanplum" company, a "mobile analytics vendor", and "certain developers"). We see terms like:

      • - "IP address"
      • - "browser version"
      • - "operating system"
      • - "locale"
      • - "language preference"
      • - "list of add-ons you have installed"
      • - "phone number"
      • - "email address"
      • - "URLs associated with the downloaded file"
      • - "hardware configuration"
      • - "commonly visited domains"
      • - "location"
      • - "the active URL"
      • - "Google advertising ID"
      • - "personal information"
      • - "key word searches"
      • - "Wi-Fi networks"
      • - "cell phone towers"

      Here are the excerpts:

      Once per day, Firefox sends the following info to Mozilla when it checks for browser updates: your Firefox version information, language preference, operating system, and version.

      Firefox contacts Mozilla once per day to check for add-on information to check for malicious add-ons. This includes, for example: browser version, OS and version, locale, total number of requests, time of last request, time of day, IP address, and the list of add-ons you have installed.

      About once per day, Firefox connects to Mozilla and provides you with new snippets, if available. Mozilla may collect how often snippets are clicked, snippet name, browser locale, and which version of Firefox you're using.

      Firefox sends Mozilla a monthly request to look up your location at a country level using your IP address.

      Some Mozilla sponsored snippets are interactive and allow you to optionally share your phone number or email address.

      This data includes, for example: device hardware, operating system, Firefox version, add-ons (count and type), timing of browser events, rendering, session restores, length of session, interaction with search access points and use of Firefox search partner codes, how old a profile is, basic information about errors and crashes, and count of pages.

      Firefox sends to this third-party information identifying the site's certificate.

      About twice per hour, Firefox downloads Google's SafeBrowsing lists to help block access to sites and downloads that are malicious or forged (Google's privacy policy is at https://www.google.com/policies/privacy/).

      Firefox may send metadata, including URLs associated with the downloaded file, to the SafeBrowsing service.

      Usage statistics or "Telemetry" is a feature in Firefox that sends Mozilla usage, performance, and responsiveness statistics about user interface features, memory, and hardware configuration. Your IP address is also collected as a part of a standard web log.

      Firefox sends to Mozilla data relating to the tiles such as number of clicks, impressions, your IP address, locale information, and tile specific data (e.g., position and size of grid).

      In Firefox Beta, certain short-term Telemetry experiments (see above) for Tiles may collect information about commonly visited domains.

      Firefox sends Mozilla a request once to look up your location at a country level using your IP address.

      Firefox may send the terms you type in the Awesome Bar or Search Bar to your

    • Mozilla collects too much data. This is the number three complaint right behind:

      Why are there so many bugs in Firefox?
      Why does Mozilla not listen to me?

  • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @08:07AM (#55069111) Journal
    Yet another reason to switch to Pale Moon [palemoon.org] if you haven't already done so.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by raburton ( 1281780 )

      Not really. They is a good rational for doing this, they are discussing it publicly and the opt-opt will be clear and easy. This is how you develop trust.

      • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @08:25AM (#55069191)

        ...They is a good rational for doing this...

        No, there isn't.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          On the one hand Mozilla get criticised for not listening to users and delivering changes they don't want.

          On the other, when Mozilla tries to listen to users they are told there is no good reason for them to do so.

          Okay, it would be better if it was opt-in with a prompt on first run, but opt-out with a clear request before any information is logged isn't terrible.

          • ...Mozilla tries to listen to users...

            Data collection is not 'listening to users." It is data collection.

          • You are confusing listening with spying. Listening in this context is supposed to mean a conversation where both parties have to read and interpret each others thoughts to come to a mutual understanding. Its a give and take between 'peers'. This is not what Mozilla is interested in. They want to build a package to sell to others, period. That doesnt involve 'listening', it involves doing things the user has already expressly told you not to. Its the opposite of listening.
            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              They tried what you suggested, looking at small numbers of users in detail. This is to get an overview and look for larger trends, like how many people install add-ons that bring back the old UI or enable hidden preferences in about:config.

              I wouldn't turn it on myself, but especially if it was opt-in it would be a legitimate way of collecting data.

              • You are missing the point. Users dont OWE you their usage records. Its not data you are EVER entitled to.
          • The appropriate place for Mozilla to Listen to their users is on their bug tracker (as opposed to closing things with the good old WONTFIX or NOTABUG). Or the 'submit feedback' option in the help menu. Listening to users can easily be done without resorting to data mining. If you're that desperate for feedback, open up a "we need feedback" tab every now and then when people upgrade. You could even use the existing feedback infrastructure for that, it should take less than 10 lines of code to implement. If y

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        You develop trust by not spying on your users.

        I still use Firefox because NoScript, but I can't see myself still using it a year from now, the way things are going.

      • This is how you develop trust.

        Not really. How you develop trust is to make it opt-in.

        However, their transparency about this -- and the fact that they are providing a mechanism to opt out -- makes this less awful than it would otherwise be. It may not be trust-destroying (depending on how obvious they make the data collection and how easy they make the opt-out), but it's certainly not trust-enhancing.

        • That all depends on the fact they TELL you they have changed the spying to opt-out with the updated version.How many times have other made changes unannounced to the users? Too many times.Me I don't trust anyone anymore to do the right things what users want..Christ ya have to root a cellphone to make the changes you want, MS has made the PC a very big cellphone that they wont let us root. Sad times we live in.
      • Not really. They is a good rational for doing this, they are discussing it publicly and the opt-opt will be clear and easy. This is how you develop trust.

        Not to mention, forks from Mozilla will reap all the benefits of the improvements that better data yield.

    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

      Pale Moon has its extinction event earlier. Already killed jetpack add-ons, for no reason other than "well other people should just remake their add-ons for us".

      It went from solid alternative to firefox to firefox-lite with serious problems due to ridiculous engine change with all the same "developers full of themselves telling everyone else to change to fit their idea on how browser should work"-problem.

    • Is this the same Pale Moon that took the whole of my RAM up last time I tried it?

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      For me, I still use SeaMonkey [seamonkey-project.org]. ;)

  • I might even consider using their shitty browser
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Huh? Telemetry is currently opt-in, not opt-out, except for beta builds. Your post doesn't make sense, because that is how Firefox is currently configured.

      I don't have a problem with betas collecting telemetry on an opt-out basis. I think it's more reasonable to expect that a developer would want to collect more data from versions that are likely to include new features and are explicitly built for testing purposes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Huh? Telemetry is currently opt-in, not opt-out, except for beta builds. Your post doesn't make sense, because that is how Firefox is currently configured.

        Because, this is Slashdot, so whatever Mozilla (and many other companies) do is automatically wrong, even when they do the thing we bitched about them not doing previously

  • It's not like they went full windows 10 or anything just now you have to turn it off if you don't want to participate. Its sad that one setting is already making enough cry that they are talking about other browsers.

    Are you sure this is a geek site?

    • Its sad that one setting is already making enough cry that they are talking about other browsers.

      It's not this one setting -- this is more like another piece of straw being loaded on the camel's back. If this were the only unpleasant thing Mozilla was doing with Firefox, there wouldn't be such an outcry.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @08:22AM (#55069177)
    It is amazing that we have developed as a civilization in the days before all this privacy-busting data collection.
    • It is amazing that we have developed as a civilization in the days before all this privacy-busting data collection.

      But how have we developed? When was the last thing you heard anything positive about new software? The number one complaint is that the vendors don't seem to know how users actually use the software and thus make stupid changes. This goes back a good 10+ years now.

      Now they introduce telemetry to actually find out how users use software and the users lose their shit.

      How did we develop? Poorly!

    • Indeed. I always cringe when telemetry is represented as "critical" in some way.

      Even setting aside the politics of privacy, it's far from clear to me that telemetry has been, on the whole, all that much of a benefit in terms of software quality. Generally speaking, software quality has been declining for years, and I often see objectively bad decisions being made on the basis of telemetry.

      Good use for telemetry: getting a better understanding of how your software is malfunctioning. Bad use for telemetry: us

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        It is always my suspicion that telemetry is being used as an excuse to justify decisions made for other reasons...though sometimes I'm at a loss to guess *what* those other reasons were. Often it just seems to be "I'm bored with the current layout, so let's change something.".

    • Because that https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvks70PD0Rs [youtube.com]was before all the kewl millennials decided to use Agile/Scrum as the only way to develop code. No QA as your users are the testers with smily or frowns. Windows 10 has had no QA at all whatsoever as an example.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @08:24AM (#55069185)

    ...Engineers also plan to embed Google's RAPPAR project [1, 2] for anonymous data collection....

    Using the word "google" with the phrase "anonymous data collection" may invoke laughter. And disbelief.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Google does *lots* of things. They don't *all* spy on you.

      OTOH, I didn't search out what the RAPPAR project is or does. It's quite possible that's one of the many that *do* spy on you.

  • by bjdevil66 ( 583941 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @09:09AM (#55069387)

    My first response: They're about to kill its best, remaining feature in the minds of many, and now they say, "Let me spy on you."

    But I ultimately get what they're trying to do. After all this online complaining, they may finally be having to accept that they really need to know more about how people use their product. Considering how many people here have complained about how the Mozilla devs "don't know what we really want!! Why are they doing X??", this should be something they should consider doing.

    Sounds like they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. Maybe us complainers should look in the mirror and realize we may be one of the toughest crowd of browser users in the world to please. "No, you can't collect my data!.... Wait - Why are you removing X? I USE THAT FEATURE! Don't you know that about your users?

    Maybe that's why Google Chrome has outstripped Firefox over the last several years when it comes to user base size. They KNOW what most people want, even if we don't like to admit to everything we want?

    I'm a loyal Firefox user - and I'll probably still opt-out while I grumble about losing most of my add-ons. But I won't honestly be able to say that Firefox's eventual demise will be on the Mozilla Foundation alone.

    • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @09:59AM (#55069689)
      The next day after telemetry collection goes live:

      Firefox now renders porn 1000% faster using 50% less memory and supports up to 999 tabs. Every other feature was removed.
    • Considering how many people here have complained about how the Mozilla devs "don't know what we really want!! Why are they doing X??", this should be something they should consider doing.

      The remaining Firefox users are pretty vocal and forceful about their desires. Mozilla doesn't need telemetry to find out what people want. They're being told outright every day.

    • People complain for years about things they don't like, and the Mozilla foundation says, "Suck it up, dudes." People discuss new features on the forums, and Mozilla heartily ignores said feedback.

      Obviously, collecting data by force for investigative purposes will fix this problem, because they have no idea what the problem is!

      The more companies whine about telemetry, the more convinced I am telemetry is just for making BS reports to shove into managers' and investors' faces. Numbers are useless if you don

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @09:10AM (#55069389)

    The constant update cycle, trying to become Chrome-but-worse, disabling treasured extensions and plugins, all of these tactics and more have cratered Firefox's market share, but some people still apparently have it installed on their system.

    Clearly, these few remaining miscreants must be driven away as fast as possible. Default collection of private data should do the trick!

  • Is this the same data that led to MozColonSlashSlashA's infantilization of the user interface around the late 20s (version number, that is)? What good is getting more data from more users if they will simply make bad decisions based on it? (I've been a grateful user of Classic Theme Restorer since then, but unfortunately it will fall victim to the coming addonpocalypse.)
  • by pr0nbot ( 313417 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @09:17AM (#55069437)

    The knee-jerk reaction is that all telemetry is a privacy nightmare.

    As a thought experiment, what kind of telemetry might be acceptable?

    For example, suppose it were 2 integers collected weekly:
    * number of HTTPS sites visited
    * number of HTTP sites visited

    Unavoidably, there would be metadata: IP address and date/time of data collection. So as well as the intended analytics ("what proportion of the sites users are visiting are HTTPS sites?") it would be possible to build a per-IP profile of number of sites visited over time.

    Is this level of telemetry unacceptable?

    If it is acceptable, then we've established that it is not telemetry per se that is bad but rather the data being collected.

    Ongoing telemetry would require trust ("when I consented you were collecting two integers, but now you're collecting all sorts of other things") unless totally transparent, but perhaps even with total transparency the burden of verification that then falls on the user is too onerous.

    I wonder if there could be a role for someone like the EFF to be the guardian of telemetry info, i.e. Firefox sends telemetry data to the EFF and they then decide whether it's ok or not, or anonymize it (e.g. strip out IP addresses in the above example), before sending it on to Mozilla. Of course, they'd want to be paid for this service, and since users reject the notion of paying for a browser the obvious payer would be Mozilla, but that creates moral hazard. Given that it'd be a public good, the government could run and/or fund it, but I suspect there's a large overlap between the set of people who have a problem with telemetry and the set of people who distrust their government.

    • what kind of telemetry might be acceptable?

      That entirely depends on who is collecting the data. With some organizations, such as Microsoft or random developers that I've never heard of, there is no amount of telemetry that is acceptable to me at all.

      With others (I used to count Mozilla among these, but I'm not so sure anymore), I have enough trust in them that I'm OK with quite a lot of telemetry.

      There are also things that are never OK no matter who you are: lists of files on my system, what applications I have installed or run, the contents of any

  • They really are lowering their standards.

  • The next logical step is to set your sights higher up your own leg. And Mozilla is being oh-so-logical, although I fail to understand the peculiar logic that's driving them to squander the paltry remainder of their user base.

  • One alternative to flipping everyone to enabled and having a tickbox you've got to discover to opt out is perhaps some sort of increasingly spaced out nagging? I'm thinking that everyone who isn't sending telemetry gets a nag dialogue that they can delay the re-appearance of in increasing intervals (e.g. for one month after first nag, 3 more months after second nag, 1 year after third nag and finally never nag me again after that).

    If they get a load of take-up after nag 1 in the first month, they can use a

    • I'll tolerate a single nag, but it better have a "never show this again" button and honor it. I've uninstalled more than one program over this issue.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @11:24AM (#55070261) Journal
    If the 'opt out clause' just means I have to go into settings and uncheck some boxes, and Mozilla otherwise isn't going to pull any Microsoft-level bullshit like quietly countermanding me again when I'm not looking, then that's fine.

    If, on the other hand, they do something nasty, like remove the checkboxes entirely, and make you jump through a bunch of hoops to 'opt out', and then you have no way of independently verifying your 'opt out' choice has been taken seriously, then I say "screw you, you bastards, you have become everything you hate".
  • At least for anything even remotely identifying people. IP addresses, for example, fall under this. It always has to be opt-in.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @11:53AM (#55070491)
    The Firefox developers apparently have a very different vision for Firefox than the Firefox users do. This is evidenced by the declining market share and the bloating of Firefox with unwanted "features" that do little to enhance or make more efficient the browsing experience.

    .
    Privacy-busting data collection is not going to fix that problem, as the data will more than likely be interpreted by the developers to confirm their misdirected vision.

    Instead of data collection (something that is done because it is easy, not necessarily the proper solution), the Firefox developers need to take a step back and look at their vision for Firefox. That is the conversation that needs to take place with the Firefox users.

    Offhand, I'd say that priority #1 is that the Firefox users don't want Firefox to continue on the goal of turning into a Chrome clone. With the addition of data collection, that goal is almost met.

    I could go on, but I doubt if anyone is reading, they're probably drooling over all the data they will be collecting soon.

  • Do you remember why Firefox was created, and why it took off? I certainly do, I remember using IIRC .6 of it, and it got smaller with each release. Why was that? because it was removing the Mozilla/Netscape crap. It also worked to put users in control of not just the browser experiance, but the browser.

    Well what do you think happened when Mozilla/Netscape died and they took over Firefox as their flagship product? Sure they are ignoring their users and chase telemtry now admiting that the data could be wr

  • Firefox will have telemetry settings turned on by default so in order to turn them off, you have to launch Firefox, which then ironically sends telemetry data in the first place. So, all Firefox users phone home their computer info at least once regardless and are add-on free. I guess all of my new Firefox installs will be opened without the Internet on. Still better than Chrome's privacy.
  • I would pay for a browser that behaved itself and guaranteed my privacy.
    We pay for lots of other software, so why not a good browser?

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