The Firefox browser, already known for its privacy protections, is even more private thanks to a new cookie restriction feature announced by Mozilla on Tuesday.
The design change, labeled “Total Cookie Protection,” aims to provide enhanced protection against online tracking by limiting the ability of websites to read cookies created by third-party services. According to a Mozilla blog postaccess to any given cookie will be restricted to the site that deposited the cookie in a user’s browser, so a cookie created by one website or service will not be readable by other websites visited by a user.
Mozilla’s blog post describes the new feature in a separate “cookie jar” for each site, preventing trackers from linking to user behavior across multiple sites. The post explains:
Every time a website, or third-party content embedded in a website, deposit a cookie in your browser, this cookie is limited to the cookie jar assigned only to that website. No other websites can access cookies that do not belong to them and find out what other websites cookies know about you … This approach strikes a balance between eliminating the worst privacy features of third-party cookies – especially the ability to track you – and allow these cookies to perform their less invasive use cases (e.g. to provide accurate analyzes).
The cookie-cutter feature is part of Mozilla’s ongoing privacy-focused development strategy, which has also seen Firefox continue to support the most advanced forms of ad blocking, unlike Google Chrome. As for cookies, Google previously announced in 2020 that it would remove third-party cookies within two years but later suspended the 2023 deadline.
Describing the need for enhanced cookie protection, Mozilla cited various examples of the abuse of tracking, including Facebook. digital tracking of student loan applicants and the selling visitor data to Planned Parenthood. The blog also refers to popular Last Week Tonight an episode in which John Oliver targeted data brokers.
Mozilla chief security officer Marshall Erwin said The Edge that the organization wanted to give users control of their own data and offer more defense against its abuse.
“Internet users today are stuck in a vicious cycle in which their data is collected without their knowledge, sold and used to manipulate them,” Erwin said in an email. “Total Cookie Protection breaks that cycle by putting people first, protecting their privacy, giving them a choice and cutting Big Tech off the data it empties every day. The feature offers Firefox’s strongest privacy protection to date and is the culmination of years of work to slow down internet tracking. “
It may take more than cookie protection to curb the rampant data consumption of major tech companies, but blocking third-party tracking will certainly bring clear privacy gains.
The new cookie protection feature is now available in the latest version of the Firefox desktop. Mozilla is running a different timeline for mobile launch, Erwin said, though the technology is already available in the privacy-centric “Focus” version of the Firefox browser on Android. Erwin said the technology could not be released on iOS because of App Store rules, which favor Apple’s browser over alternatives.
Despite objections from developers and allegations of anti-competitive practice, Apple continues to require that all browsers for iOS be built on the WebKit browser, which means that it is difficult for any browser to distinguish itself significantly from Safari. In addition to browser restrictions, Apple has earned praise from privacy advocates for its aggressive means of blocking tracking through iOS apps.