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Firefox makes it harder for Facebook and others to track you online

Published Feb 25th, 2021 8:22PM EST
Firefox 86 Features
Image: nikkimeel/Adobe

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  • Mozilla’s Firefox 86 update comes with a new “Total Cookie Protection” feature that enhances user privacy.
  • Total Cookie Protection will remove a company’s ability to access cookies belonging to a different site, preventing the said company from tracking users online.
  • The new cookie feature has to be turned on manually in the browser’s settings panel.

User privacy is a hot topic right now, thanks to Facebook’s relentless attack on Apple on account of the new privacy protections built into iPhone and iPad. Facebook will have to ask users for permission to track them on these devices, something Facebook never had to do before. The company is mounting another ad campaign about personalized ads, practically begging users to allow Facebook to track them on iPhone when the time comes.

Maybe Facebook’s ads should also focus on Mozilla, as the company just launched a Firefox update that makes it harder for companies like Facebook and Google to track people online. That’s because Firefox 86 comes with a feature called “Total Cookie Protection.”

Load a website for the first time in a browser, and chances are the site will ask you to accept cookies. Most of us agree to that without thinking twice about it. Cookies make internet browsing easier. They’re tiny pieces of code that can help a website remember who you are. For example, they tell Google that the same account is used for Gmail in one tab and Google Maps in another, without the user having to log into each app.

But cookies can also be used to track users across services. And companies have been using cookies for that purpose. Firefox 86 users can now enable the new Total Cookie Protection feature to improve their privacy protections and reduce tracking.

The feature doesn’t remove cookies or block their activity on phones. But Mozilla has implemented new measures to limit the abilities of sites to share cookies. Say you browse Facebook in one tab and an online store in a different tab. If the second has Facebook code in it, Facebook cookies can link the two up. And Facebook just obtained another piece of information about you.

Firefox 86 Total Cookie Protection
Illustration explains how Firefox 86’s “Total Cookie Protection” feature works. Image source: Meghan Newell/Mozilla

With Firefox 86, each site will be restricted to its own cookies. That way, Facebook won’t be able to access Facebook-related cookies from a different website that you’d browse, as seen in the image above.

The other example, logging once into your Google account to use Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and other Google apps, isn’t affected. “Total Cookie Protection makes a limited exception for cross-site cookies when they are needed for non-tracking purposes, such as those used by popular third-party login providers,” Mozilla explained in a blog post.

To enable the new Total Cookie Protection, you have to install Firefox 86 or update to the latest version if you’re already using it. After that, head to the Preferences panel, go to Privacy and Security and choose the Strict protection mode. Mozilla warns that the feature might break some websites’ functionality, but users can always revert to the previous settings.

Total Cookie Protection won’t stop all the ways some companies might be tracking you, but it’s another privacy-enhancing feature that internet users can take advantage of.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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