Mozilla Isolates Facebook with New Firefox Extension
Mozilla today unveiled the “Facebook Container Extension”, a new browser extension designed to help Firefox users reduce the ability of Facebook to track their activity across other web sites.
The new extension, Mozilla says, will help users gain more control over their data on the social platform by isolating their identity into a separate container. Because of that, Facebook would find it more difficult to track users’ activity on other websites via third-party cookies.
The Facebook Container Add-On was launched in the light of news that Facebook at one point allowed applications to harvest large amounts of data on users and their friends and follows Mozilla’s announcement that it has paused Facebook advertising until the social network improves the privacy of its users.
The privacy scandal started with reports that Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, harvested 50 million Facebook users’ profiles without their permission.
The social network has been under heavy fire since last week, when the news broke, despite suspending the firm’s account. Many are losing trust in the platform and the use of Facebook data to target voters triggered global outrage.
This is what determined Mozilla last week to pause Facebook advertising, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s assurance that steps will be taken to ensure a situation like the Cambridge Analytica one won’t happen again.
“Facebook knows a great deal about their two billion users — perhaps more intimate information than any other company does. They know everything we click and like on their site, and know who our closest friends and relationships are,” Mozilla said last week.
Now, the browser maker says that users can enjoy both their time on Facebook and navigating on other websites they like. For that to happen, users should have tools that limit the data that others can collect on them, Mozilla included. Because of that, the browser won’t collect data from the use of the Facebook Container extension, except for information on how many times the extension is installed or removed.
The new extension, Mozilla claims, should provide users with the means to protect themselves from any side effects of usage.
“The type of data in the recent Cambridge Analytica incident would not have been prevented by Facebook Container. But troves of data are being collected on your behavior on the internet, and so giving users a choice to limit what they share in a way that is under their control is important,” the browser maker notes.
When installed, the extension deletes the user’s Facebook cookies and logs them out of the social platform. The next time they visit Facebook, the website will open in a new blue-colored browser tab (a container tab).
Users will be able to log into Facebook and use it like they would normally do. When clicking on a non-Facebook link or navigating to a non-Facebook website in the URL bar, those pages load outside of the container.
When clicking on Facebook Share buttons on other browser tabs, the extension loads them within the Facebook container. However, when the buttons are clicked, Facebook receives information on the website that the user shared from.
“If you use your Facebook credentials to create an account or log in using your Facebook credentials, it may not work properly and you may not be able to login. Also, because you’re logged into Facebook in the container tab, embedded Facebook comments and Like buttons in tabs outside the Facebook container tab will not work,” Mozilla explains.
Because of that, Facebook can’t associate information about the activity of the user on websites outside of the platform to their Facebook identity. Thus, the social network won’t be able to use the activity collected off Facebook to send ads and other targeted messages.
“There’s a lot of value in your social data. It’s important to regularly review your privacy settings on all sites and applications that use it. The EFF has useful advice on how to keep your data where you want it to be, under more of your control,” Mozilla notes.
Facebook isn’t the only firm to collect data from user’s activity outside of the core service, but this is a problem that can be solved quickly. Thus, users are advised to review their privacy settings for each app they use regularly.
Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.
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