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How to use Firefox’s tools to protect your privacy while browsing

How to use Firefox’s tools to protect your privacy while browsing


Including experimental fingerprinting protection

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The Firefox logo on a black background
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Like many of today’s browsers, Firefox has been making changes to try to answer its users’ call for more online privacy. This includes blocking third-party trackers by default as well as a VPN it calls the Firefox Private Network.

Firefox provides a number of tools to help protect you against tracking by first-party cookies (which are usually used for things like remembering your login information) and third-party tracking cookies (which are often used by advertisers and others to collect information and track your online behavior). Below are step-by-step instructions on how to adjust the settings to maximize protection against cookies or eliminate them altogether. We also look at how Firefox is dealing with fingerprinting, which tracks you by aggregating small details about your system configuration and creating an identifiable “fingerprint.”

Keep in mind that any privacy issues that Firefox doesn’t handle may be fixable by using extensions and apps.

Deal with trackers

Firefox has blocked trackers by default since September 2019 using a customizable feature called Enhanced Tracking Protection. Enhanced Tracking Protection doesn’t block all third-party trackers, though; it blocks trackers on the Disconnect list, which is a list of known trackers. It also blocks any cross-site tracking cookies but allows first-party cookies by default.

You can check if Enhanced Tracking Protection is enabled by checking the small shield icon to the left of the address bar. If the icon is purple, Firefox is blocking trackers. If it’s gray, there are no trackers to block. If it’s gray and crossed out, tracking protection is disabled for that site.

Adjust your tracking settings

You can quickly enable or disable Enhanced Tracking Protection by clicking on the shield icon; the first line in the drop-down box will let you toggle it on or off. If you want to make more specific tweaks, you can do that as well.

  • Click on the shield icon, and then select “Cross-Site Tracking Cookies” to see which cookies Firefox is blocking
  • Click the “Manage Protection Settings” link at the bottom of that list. You can also access the next menu by going into “Options” and clicking “Privacy and Security.”
  • Either will bring you to the Enhanced Tracking Protection page where you can choose either Standard, Strict, or Custom protection. (This last setting allows you to specify which trackers Firefox blocks.)

Clean up your cookies

There are other ways to personalize your security settings from the Enhanced Tracking Protection page:

  • Scroll down to “Cookies and Site Data” and click the “Manage Data...” button. Click on a site name and then the “Remove Selected” button to delete all of the cookies left by a specific site. You can also remove all of the cookies stored on your browser by clicking the “Remove All” button.
  • Click the “Manage Permissions...” button under “Cookies and Site Data” to customize settings for particular websites. Enter in a website, and then click either “Block,” “Allow for Session,” or “Allow.”
  • To delete the cookies and other data currently stored by your browser, click “Clear Data.” A window will open — make sure the box next to “Cookies and Site Data” is checked and then click “Clear.” A second window will pop up; click “Clear Now” to continue.
  • You can also check “Delete cookies and site data when Firefox is closed.”

Fingerprinting and ad-blocking

Firefox is currently experimenting with a feature it called Fingerprinting Protection, which warns you if a site tries to extract data (which is possible for the purposes of creating a fingerprint). It also looks at a number of other factors that could be picked up and used by a fingerprinter, such as your keyboard layout and time zone.

Firefox’s directions page warns that trying its Fingerprinting Protect now could “degrade your web experience.” That being said, if you’d like to give it a go:

  • Type about:config in the address bar, and click on the button to indicate you accept the risk
  • Click on the “Show All” link that appears above the next warning
  • You’ll get a long list of settings. Use the top search box to find “privacy.resistFingerprinting.”
  • If the setting is in normal type and labeled “false,” then click the toggle button on the right to enable it. (If it’s already bolded and labeled “true,” then it’s possible, according to Facebook, that one of your extensions has already turned the feature on.)

Firefox does not offer native ad-blocking, but it does provide a list of suggested ad-blocking extensions.

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