07
Jul 09

Privacy Features in Firefox 3.5

While talking to press in North America and Europe about Firefox 3.5 (you’re already running it, right?) one topic that really resonated with people was the way we pushed on privacy in this release.

I think, initially, some people viewed our private browsing mode as a checklist feature. Even though we’d been working on it since before Firefox 3, it wasn’t strong enough for us to ship until 3.5 and in the interim other browsers have implemented versions of the same functionality. I really like the way we’ve done it, and there seem to be significant differences between the various browsers’ implementations, but regardless of all that I also don’t think that any private browsing mode is a complete solution.

Private browsing mode assumes that you will always know ahead of time that you’re about to do privacy-sensitive things. In Firefox 3.5, we tried to match more closely the way people actually use the browser, and sometimes that means they need to clean up after the fact – forgetting a slice of time, or a particular site. It also means that sometimes they want their browser to remember things, sensitive bookmarks for example, but not publicize those in the location bar. People’s use of a web browser in 2009 is more nuanced than:

Public Private

Alex Faaborg has done a fantastic job detailing many of the privacy features in the latest release of Firefox. I’d encourage you all to check it out.


16
Jun 09

Google Ads: Did You Know You Could Do This?

A couple weeks ago I was attending a panel discussion at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in DC (featuring our very own Mike “Gillette Mach 3″ Shaver) when Betsy, from Google Economics, started talking about their behaviour-based advertising.

She was making a point about how Google gives users control over the kind of ads they see, and she mentioned this:

I think I always knew that the “Ads by Google” text at the bottom of ads was clickable – I’ve probably even clicked it. Historically though, it’s just been a sales pitch for would-be advertisers and content authors.  Now, when you click on it (go on, there’s one at the bottom of this post), there’s a link to your very own “Ad Preferences Manager.”

This page tells you what Google thinks you’re interested in based on the browsing habits it’s observed, and hence what kinds of ads it wants to show you (seriously, go check it out).  It also gives you the option to add/remove interests, or opt out entirely.

Betsy, from Google, was talking about how they had been trying to really get the word out to people about this interface, so that people could control their ad experience. I wasn’t sure whether that message was reaching people – even people who might care about the information advertisers collect.

A couple of questions, then:

  1. Did you know about this page?
  2. Do the contents there surprise you?  How accurate are they?
  3. How does it all make you feel? Are you more comfortable, knowing that you have some control? Or are you less comfortable, seeing the profile laid out like that?
  4. Did you make any changes while you were there?