While many people use mobile apps, most people use web browsers to access the Internet. Last week, Mozilla released a new version of its popular Firefox browser. If you use this browser and haven't reviewed some of its newer features, you probably should. The web browser software contains several options that collect data about how you use the Interenet, and then transmits this information back to the developers at Mozilla.
To view these options, open the Firefox browser on your computer and open the Tools drop-down menu. Then, select Options, then Data Choices. You'll see:
- Firefox Health Report
- Crash Reporter
What are these options? What data do they collect? First, Firefox defines Telemetry as:
"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. Usage statistics are transmitted using SSL and help us improve future versions of Firefox. Once sent to Mozilla, usage statistics are aggregated and made available to a broad range of developers, including both Mozilla employees and public contributors. This feature is turned on by default in Nightly, Developer Edition, Aurora and Beta builds of Firefox to help those users provide feedback to Mozilla. In the general release version of Firefox, this feature is turned off by default."
Are you comfortable with your browser collecting and transmiting this data? That's your choice. The default for this option is off, so you have to opt-in or enable it. To enable it, click the check box next to Telemetry in the pop-up Options box.
The second option is the Firefox Health Report:
"Firefox Health Report (FHR) is designed to provide you with insights about your browser's stability and performance and with support tips should you experience issues, such as high crash rates or slow startup times. Mozilla collects and aggregates your data with that of other Firefox users and sends it back to your browser so you can see how your Firefox performance changes over time. 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, how old a profile is, count of crashes, and count of pages. FHR does not send Mozilla URLs that you visit. We use the data sent through FHR to provide users with FHR's functionality, such as helping you analyze and address performance issues with your browser..."
Anytime I see the phrase, "includes, for example" that tells me the option collects and transmits more data elements than those listed above. Why didn't Mozilla provide the entire list of data elements? Not doing so forces users to hunt for the complete list.
The third option is the Crash Reporter:
"This report contains technical information for us to improve Firefox including why Firefox crashed, the active URL at time of crash, and the state of computer memory during the crash. The crash report we receive may include personal information. We make portions of crash reports available publicly at https://crash-stats.mozilla.com/). Before publicly posting crash reports, we take steps to automatically redact personal information. We do not redact anything you may write in the comments box."
Maybe your Firefox browser is stable, or not. Mine is pretty stable. It rarely crashes. I have a hard time remembering the last time it crashed... probably four or five years ago. The default for this option is already enabled, so you have to opt out or remove the check box next to the Crash Reporter option.
To me, this crash data seems worthwhile, so I left the Crash Reporter opinion enabled. The other two options didn't seem critical, so I decided not to enabled them. My point: wise Internet users know what data their web browsers collect.
I like that Mozilla provided these options with their web browser. I feel informed and in control of my personal information and privacy. Perhaps, you feel similarly. I hope so.
It'd be great if all other web browser software developers offered similar options to help their users. It'd be great if all manufacturers of mobile devices (e.g., tablets, smart phones, fitness accessories, watches, cameras, auto insurance trackers, etc.) provided consumers with similar options to maintain control of their information and privacy.
What are your options of the Firefox options? Of the options device manufacturers provide?