By: Earnest Jones | 02-13-2017 | News
Photo credit: The Goldwater

Firefox Caught Collecting Data On Users

Mozilla introduced the Firefox Focus back in 2016 November, it claims that the app is a free mobile browser for iOS devices and a privacy browser that’s designed to protect user privacy while browsing the web. The product description on Apple’s iTunes website claims that the app improves the performance and privacy of a user’s mobile browsing experience by blocking analytics, social, and advertising trackers. The description also points out that the app enables you to erase the browsing history, cookies and passwords easily.

Unfortunately, what the makers of Firefox won’t tell you is that despite claims that the app is designed to block analytic trackers, it collects data itself and transfers it to a third-party company known as Adjust. The same company that claims to be a proponent of user rights and privacy is collecting data from users.

Mozilla PR Germany contacted claiming that the linked article had factual errors. The company pointed out that it does not track the browsing history, and does not process telemetry data that is not anonymized as it asked the authors to make corrections to the article.

Mozilla made a statement during the introduction of the app saying that it was pleased to announce the launch of Firefox Focus, adding that the app was a free, fast and easy to use private browser for iOS.

Mozilla also pointed out that Firefox Focus is set by default to block many trackers that follow one around the Web, adding that one doesn’t need to change privacy or cookie settings. And that one can browse with peace of mind, feeling confident in the knowledge that one can instantly erase sessions with a single tap.

Some people have reported that a quick look at the settings of the application, they stumbled upon the opt-out preference “send anonymous usage data”. It’s no surprise even for organizations such as Mozilla to be collecting Telemetry.

A closer look at the company’s support website reveals information on the anonymous usage data collecting of Firefox and Firefox Focus on mobile devices. The website reveals that Mozilla uses a third-party software development kit by a Germany company adjust GMBH that it built into Firefox Focus that is connected to a data collecting internet service backend that is also run by adjust GMBH. The data collected is sent to the adjust backend and not Mozilla.

An anonymous attribution request is sent to adjust servers containing information on how the app was downloaded that’s in the case of new installs. The data collected includes an advertising ID, IP address, timestamp, country, language and locale, operating system, and app version.

As if that’s not enough, Firefox Focus occasionally sends anonymous summaries that reveal how often the application has been used. The summaries include information on whether the app has been in active use and when, additionally, the application also reveals features of the that have been used.

Adjust GMBH is a big data specialist that is known for analytics and tracking services. Journalist Manfred Kloiber, Peter Welchering, and Comidio director Herrman Sauer decided to scrutinize the controversial issue by investigating the telemetry tracking of Firefox Focus.

Their findings showed that telemetry is not limited to the above list, the German newspaper article revealed that Firefox Focus collects browsing information such as server connections and then sends that data to the third-party adjust.

One of the journalist pointed out that Mozilla and adjust did not address the inquiries. Moreover, Mozilla developers claimed that the company is collecting data to optimize the product.

However, it’s possible to turn off the anonymous data collecting of Firefox Focus by tapping on the settings icon and flipping the switch next to send anonymous usage data to off.

It’s unethical and unfortunate that an organization like Mozilla is collecting and submitting telemetry data to adjust, a company that’s known for analytics business and data collecting. This raises the question as to whether Mozilla is still a proponent of privacy, it goes without saying that the company needs to address this issue.

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