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Internet privacy is on the minds of many people including those who normally don’t pay much attention to technology. No one wants to think they’re being watched without consent or being boiled down to numbers in a database. Yet two of the main companies offering popular web browsers, Google and Microsoft, sit on the wrong side of the privacy issue. Both have an interest in what you do online and Google in particular is often unapologetic about its collection of data.

Fortunately there’s a browser that does care about your privacy; Firefox. Developed by Mozilla, which is an independent non-profit, Firefox is the only “big three” browser developed by an organization with zero interest in collecting, cataloguing and possibly distributing user data. Most readers will agree that’s great, but what does it really mean for users?

Firefox Isn’t Trying To Hook You To An Ecosystem

One of the first things you’ll see when you install Chrome is a page asking you to enter your Google account information. This is not required to use the browser, but the page that appears doesn’t explicitly make that clear, so users who don’t know any better may assume it’s mandatory. Microsoft pulls no such shenanigans with Internet Explorer, but only because it already pulled the same trick Going Private - How To Switch To A Local Account On Windows 8.1 Going Private - How To Switch To A Local Account On Windows 8.1 You have a choice! Microsoft didn't make it easy, but in Windows 8.1 it's possible to set up or switch to a regular -- local and offline -- Windows account. And it's easy! Read More when you installed Windows 8/8.1 or first turned on your new Windows 8/8.1 computer. Again, signing up for a Microsoft is not mandatory, but Windows goes out of its way to make that seem the case.

microsoftaccount

Both Google and Microsoft prompt users to sign up for seemingly mandatory accounts because their business models revolve around getting users to join their ecosystems. In both cases you end up paying for their ostensively free service with your digital freedom. Want to stop using Google’s services after you’ve spent a year or two with them? Have fun forwarding all your emails! Want to stop using Windows after you’ve synced all your documents in OneDrive? Have fun spending hours transferring data and confirming backups!

You may wonder why you should care about your digital freedom. The answer is that things change. Products change. Policies change. Companies change. May you don’t think Google is a threat to your privacy today (in which case I’ve a bridge to sell you), but that could change tomorrow. Just one update in their Terms of Use could be what sends you fleeing. Except you can’t flee – not easily. You may have gigabytes of data, hoards of passwords and pages of user history data tied up with Google or Microsoft. With Firefox, though, you’re far less tied into what Mozilla has created. Most data is easily exported and there’s a broad range of security extensions that work cross-browser.

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Firefox Doesn’t Make Money Off You

Google Chrome, the last of the big three browsers to support Do Not Track How To Block Facebook And Other Social Networks From Tracking You Online How To Block Facebook And Other Social Networks From Tracking You Online Whenever you visit a site with a Like, Tweet or +1 button, you're actually sharing data with Facebook, Twitter or Google. And that's not all. There are hundreds of advertising and data collection companies that... Read More , hides the feature deep with the Advanced Settings section of the browser. Clicking on it delivers a long message that essentially states Do Not Track may or may not change website behavior, which is true. There’s no legal enforcement of the idea. And clicking on “learn more” reveals exactly why Do Not Track hasn’t caught on. Google does not change its behavior when it receives a Do Not Track request and probably never will.

googlechromedonotrack

The reason is obvious; Google makes money from your data by using it for advertising. A lot of money. Anyone who uses Google must accept that they’ll have their search history catalogued, even if browsing while logged out of a Google account (the company will associate your habits with an anonymous profile instead). If you do use Chrome, though, there’s a long list of additional information sent to Google’s servers. The most worrying from a privacy standpoint is a set of unique identifiers could be used to create a very precise profile of your usage. Google claims these are “short lived,” but doesn’t clarify exactly how long they remain valid, so you just have to take the company’s word for it.

Mozilla does not sell advertising, so it has no interest in collecting or storing such data beyond improving the browser itself. As such the company receives far less data from users and is more specific about how long it retains what it does receive (180 days for most data). You can learn what’s sent by reading the Firefox Browser Privacy Notice.

Firefox Treats Your Passwords With More Respect

All of the big three browsers have a password manager Which Browser Has The Better Password Manager? Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Internet Explorer Which Browser Has The Better Password Manager? Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Internet Explorer Although there are a variety of dedicated password management tools, every modern browser has its own built-in password manager. But just how good are the built-in password managers? We'll look at how each popular browser's... Read More . In theory this feature provides a major boast to security because it allows the use of more complex passwords (the kind you normally would have trouble remembering) without the inconvenience of writing them down, an approach with its own problems. Chrome and Internet Explorer run into problems, however, because they don’t do much to protect the passwords you’ve entered. Chrome is particularly bad because it only encrypts your password with your local Windows account password. Anyone with access to your Windows machine can see the passwords if they know where to look.

Firefox’s approach is better, and emblematic of its more serious stance on security. Users can sign up for a scheme similar to Chrome, entering passwords for each site and without the use of another cipher to encrypt them. This makes passwords as easy to find in Firefox as they are in Chrome. However, those who are serious about privacy can enable a master password that is used to encrypt all other passwords. Mozilla does not track this password and no stored password data can be viewed or edited without it.

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Strangely, Google’s less secure implementation is intentional. An employee of Google named Justin Schuh got into a bit of a slap-fight with critics of Chrome on Hacker News back in 2013. His contention was that a password manager which does not make passwords easily readable creates a false sense of security because anyone with physical access to your computer could theoretically retrieve the passwords if they are stored locally.

If you stand on your head and close one eye it’s possible to see where he’s coming from, but this logic is narrow. Are we to believe there’s a significant overlap between “people who know how to crack encrypted passwords” and “people who steal computers?” Google employees always operate on the assumption that everyone is a computer engineer – which is why the company often seems out of touch with reality.

Firefox Cares Most About Privacy

I think it’s clear that Firefox is the superior option for people concerned about their privacy. It’s not perfect, and more importantly just one part of a larger ecosystem. Protecting your privacy to the fullest extent possible will mean using proxy services and special security add-ons. Simply switching to Firefox will at least improve the security of you browser stored passwords, though, and decrease the amount of data fed to Google and Microsoft.

What do you think of Firefox’s privacy stance? Is it useful, or does it make people feel more anonymous than they really are? Have your say in the comments!

  1. Swirl
    January 9, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    I've tried multiples times to switch back to FireFox from Chrome but not without problems I rather do without. Firefox crashes so its too unreliable for me to take it seriously as my main browser. It is also very slow in all that it does compare to Chrome. Chrome for me just works. The only reason I have Firefox install now is so I can use the extension that allows me to download youtube videos.

    And as Dan said: Fx is slower to launch, slower to connect to sites, slower to render pages.

    IE i never use, Safari at random.

  2. Devasativa
    November 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Maxathon Cloud Browser is my fav..you may want to compare!

    Maxthon (Asia) Ltd. (Maxthon) is strongly committed to protecting the privacy of its users.

  3. Relationship Roadmaps
    November 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Oye! The crap that Google clogs your machine with compared to Firefox, which would have me track and disc cleaning with Glary Utilities every day. I like the Firefox cookie cleaner because it lingers on after you close the tab and you can clean those insidious hangers on that some sites like Google use to keep their mitts on you. The Bookmarks replace the Recently opened documents when you clear the History and everything else and back to the future isn't an option. With Firefox shelving Google for Yahoo soon, the search engine alternatives are a bonus and it's user's choice.

  4. Doc Wolfram
    November 25, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    I use the fourth of the "big three": Safari

  5. Raghavender Rao Jitta
    November 25, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I have used Firefox for a long time and it is a fantastic browser. No one can argue on that.

    But when I moved to Chrome, it just worked perfectly well for me. The things I hated about Firefox weren't an issue anymore in Chrome.

    I didn't have to restart the browser whenever an extension/addon was enabled/disabled.
    I didn't have to restart the entire browser because it hangs up due to lack of free memory.
    I didn't have to look for addons to be updated to support the latest browser version.
    I didn't have to wait for minutes for the browser to startup.
    I didn't have to use third party apps to sync my browser tabs to other devices when I am away from the desktop.
    And I could go on and write more but I think I made my point.

    Although, I agree that privacy and security are core to Firefox, Chrome + Lastpass is a great alternative than switching to Firefox entirely.

  6. Monica Marks-Rea
    November 25, 2014 at 2:25 am

    Thanks so much for making me aware of this. I had switched to Chrome from Firefox due to some loading issues but just recently installed the newest version of Firefox and have switched back. I'm just wondering if there is a way to delete the personal info that Chrome has accumulated about me in the past. Thanks "makeuseof" for some very valuable information!

  7. Chris
    November 25, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Please give Matt, the author, a break, guys. I can empathize with length, uniqueness, and article quantity requirements under the gun. Sometimes, there's simply no time to do a thorough final proof-reading and still make enough to pay the rent.
    (And, besides, he posted on my birthday and so gets additional points.)
    I dropped Fx when they pulled that little stunt with the CEO. Yeah, I know, one person out of a googal. Though I don't know whether I can get past their delusions of self-righteousness, Matt makes good points and I'll take them under further advisement.

  8. Leo
    November 25, 2014 at 1:02 am

    I can't see any difference in speed between Firefox and chrome,
    You can't be invisible, just make it difficult to be seen.

    • OldRedNed
      November 29, 2014 at 7:50 am

      '.......it’s more like wanting to masturbate naked in the window of gym’s yoga class.' Mmmmm, never thought of that....interesting.

  9. Mike_M
    November 25, 2014 at 12:53 am

    Privacy on the Internet.... that means something much different for the average person, like my mom, or my aunts and uncles and there kids. To them it's akin to wanting to use an ATM in a bad neighborhood to withdraw $100's and flash it around so everyone can see and then walk away magically protected from thieves. To some it's more like wanting to masturbate naked in the window of gym's yoga class.
    Firefox's stance on privacy and security is certainly admirable but nothing can protect you from yourself. Sure, there's some inherent danger on the Internet but the real trouble is people that are too willing to be blissfully ignorant of their own safety; as if they're so entitled that the world should just become a perfect utopia for them.

    But anyways... I used to love me some firefox and then one day, after years of happy use, it just became this unstable crash-happy POS. I reinstalled, I cleaned and reinstalled, I formatted and reinstalled my OS and reinstalled FF, I did all of the above on multiple systems. Yet, it was no longer the browser that used to be my bulletproof friend. I fully admit that my browser use isn't the same as the average person's. I keep numerous tabs open for weeks on end (bookmarks, for me, are where things you want to remember go to die).
    "Well there's your problem Mike. You use a browser like a moron. No browser can put up with that!" I'd be inclined to agree except for two things... 1. Firefox handled my use for years without a hiccup, and 2. Chrome handles it just fine now.
    I will keep checking back with you firefox. I miss you.

  10. GIMP
    November 24, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Kevin - what the hell are you talking about? The founder can make a donation to anyone he feels like and if you're referring to his donation in opposition to Prop 8, that is definitely his right and he should have never been ousted for a measly donation of a $1000. None of that has anything to do with privacy of those surfing with his browser and all to do with his own privacy. Firefox is my #2 browser and will most likely stay that way. I also have all of my employees using it as well. Chrome is just too intrusive and too big.

  11. nkbay
    November 24, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    After what Mozilla Foundation did to their CEO, I would NEVER use Firefox again. They are a disgusting company. Just to remind - the CEO had the audacity, as protected by the constitution, to contribute to an organization that was not supportive of gays. For that he was fired. There are other browsers published by more rational corporations. Not one of my friends or associates uses Firefox any longer.

  12. Jimmy
    November 24, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Excellent article.
    Don't like the new tab page for Firefox but
    that is my only complaint.

  13. Doc
    November 23, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    "...signing up for a Microsoft is not mandatory..." Signing up for a Microsoft *account*. Duh. Proofread!

  14. Dan
    November 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

    If only Fx was as fast and as nimble as Chrome. It has nothing to do with bloat, it's about usage. Fx is slower to launch, slower to connect to sites, slower to render pages. Maybe in the First World you have fast and reliable internet, but here in the Third World, we need every speed improvement we can get. Fx has been trying to whittle down the bloat to make it faster but so far the improvements are marginally noticeable. Maybe it's the Gecko engine. Maybe they need to ditch this hulking legacy of Netscape and start fresh. I want Fx to succeed, but they have to make a compelling product again.

    • Don
      November 25, 2014 at 3:39 am

      I have the exact opposite experience. Chrome takes 10 times as long to load with only a single tab than Firefox with over 100 tabs. Sorry, but Firefox is considerably faster and more responsive than Chrome ever dreamed of being.

    • Tinkicker
      November 25, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      "Sorry, but Firefox is considerably faster and more responsive than Chrome ever dreamed of being."

      For you Don...for you.

      Chrome happens to be faster for me most of the time, but there have been moments when Firefox impressed me. Every system and every user's system load is vastly different in terms of performance. There IS NO one best answer.

  15. Kevin Dethlefs
    November 22, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Firefox cares most about privacy? Tell that to the founder of Mozilla who, not only acting on his own behalf, but did so years ago, made a donation to someone Mozilla didn't agree with and ousted him as CEO.

    Firefox will always stay out of my #1 spot. Opera may even take its #2 spot, if I ever have a desire to evaluate it with seriousness. I'm happy with Chrome, privacy issues set aside.

    What should be talked about is the absolute ignorance of privacy on the internet. It will never exist. Your ISP's log where you go, etc. Your VPN provider? Same thing (more than likely). Even if they don't, your ISP is logging your VPN traffic and assuming your hiding something anyway.

    Hackers = short term damage. ISP's and interceptions = medium term damage. Government = Longer term damage.

  16. zcompguy
    November 21, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Oh yes there is...Lol. You just haven't found it yet...

    • Mike
      November 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      Hi, How long will you keep us all in suspense ??...help-us find-it!! Many thanks. Regards, James.

  17. michel
    November 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    I don't want to argue your points, but: 1) If you're syncing data with OneDrive, that means it's also on your hard drive, so there's no hours transferring data. 2) For me, Chrome is the only browser whose password functions work. 3) It seems the fight was lost long ago, and there is no such thing as privacy on the internet, under any circumstances. Surf accordingly.

  18. dragonmouth
    November 21, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Please check the following sentences:
    " MAY you don’t think Google" I think you mean "MAYBE...."
    "In theory this feature provides a major BOAST" I think you mean "...BOOST"

    The article is Windows-centric. Do author's comments/observations apply to these browsers as used on OS/X or Linux?

    If I were to use a Password Manager, it would be LastPass or KeePassX.

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