Users get more control over data in latest Firefox beta

Users and websites will be able to manage what data is sent to other websites

Mozilla is adding new capabilities in the beta version of Firefox 36 to give users and website owners more control over what data, if any, is sent to other websites during browsing.

When a user navigates to a new website by clicking on a link or pulls an image or video file from another site, the browser typically sends the new site the address of the page that referred it. It's useful for webmasters to see where someone has come from but a privacy worry since other sensitive data can be revealed.

"As the Web got more complex, the amount of information in the referrer header ballooned, leading to bigger privacy problems," wrote Sid Stamm, principal security and privacy engineer at Mozilla.

Just earlier this week the U.S. government health insurance website HealthCare.gov was found to be sending personal data such as zip codes, income levels and whether users smoke or are pregnant to external sites via referral data sent to trackers in the website.

To help users keep control of such data, Mozilla has been working on changes to Firefox's Gecko rendering engine to make it easier for users or browser extensions to control referrer data.

And it has created a feature called "meta referrer" in the Firefox 36 beta that allows webmasters to include a tag in HTML documents specifying a referrer policy and what data can be sent.

For example, a policy can be set that strips the referrer header of a path, query string or fragment, Stamm wrote. Other policies can block all referrer information, he wrote.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the HealthCare.gov incident a major privacy concern since companies could use it to create profiles for targeted advertising.

But it's unclear if the referrer problem with HealthCare.gov will be fixed. Aaron Albright, director of the Media Relations Group for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, wrote via email there is no evidence that third-party companies have misused the information. It was unclear if the issue would be fixed.

"We will remain vigilant and will continue to focus on what more we can do to keep consumers' personal information secure," Albright wrote.

In 2010, Facebook made technical changes after was found sending a person's user ID in a referrer when a person clicked on an advertisement, potentially allowing a company to identify a specific user. Facebook labeled the issue an "unintentional oversight."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags applicationssecuritybrowserssoftwareprivacymozilla

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?