All posts in “Mozilla”

A new Firefox update should have the browser working again after a rough weekend

Firefox had an off weekend, but it's trying to get back in working order.
Firefox had an off weekend, but it’s trying to get back in working order.

Image: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

After a difficult weekend in which browser extensions stopped working in Firefox, the popular browser is trying to get itself together so people don’t have to suffer during the work week.

An update came early Monday morning that should theoretically fix the issue, which, according to the Firefox bug report site, was caused by an expired certificate. (Just like in Google Chrome, plenty of Firefox users rely on optional extensions to make their web surfing experiences more tolerable.) 

In a post on the Mozilla blog, the browser maker said version 66.0.4 should resolve the issue. 

The seemingly small infrastructural problem meant that people who relied on things like ad blockers to browse the web were forced to use Firefox without them (or switch to another browser entirely). This, of course, led to complaints on social media.

“We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to people who use Firefox,” the blog post read.

One thing to note is that this update only applies to version 66, the current build of the Firefox browser. Some people choose to use older iterations due to personal preference, but it seems those people will be left behind by this update. They may need to update to the current version or start using another browser.

This isn’t the first time in 2019 that internal changes to a popular service have left some people in the dust. Google made API changes earlier this year that killed off a great deal of support for the productivity-focused app IFTTT within Gmail. Thanks to those changes, some people who had set up Gmail commands to make their lives easier suddenly had to find alternatives.

Firefox’s issues this weekend happened on a much larger scale, but at least Firefox was able to issue some kind of fix by the start of the week. 

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Firefox is now a better iPad browser

Mozilla today announced a new iOS version of Firefox that has been specifically optimized for Apple’s iPad. Given the launch of the new iPad mini this week, that’s impeccable timing. It’s also an admission that building a browser for tablets is different from building a browser for phones, which is what Mozilla mostly focused on in recent years.

“We know that iPads aren’t just bigger versions of iPhones,” Mozilla writes in today’s announcement. “You use them differently, you need them for different things. So rather than just make a bigger version of our browser for iOS, we made Firefox for iPad look and feel like it was custom made for a tablet.”

So with this new version, Firefox for iPad gets support for iOS features like split screen and the ability to set Firefox as the default browser in Outlook for iOS. The team also optimized tab management for these larger screens, including the option to see tabs as large tiles, “making it easy to see what they are, see if they spark joy and close with a tap if not.” And if you have a few tabs you want to share, then you can do so with the Send Tabs feature Mozilla introduced earlier this year.

Starting a private browsing session on iOS always took a few extra tabs. The iPad version makes this a one-tap affair as it prominently highlights this feature in the tab bar.

Because quite a few iPad users also use a keyboard, it’s no surprise that this version of Firefox also supports keyboard shortcuts.

If you are an iPad user in search of an alternative browser, Firefox may now be a viable option for you. Give it a try and let us know what you think in the comments (just don’t remind us how you work from home for only a few hours a day and make good money… believe me, we’re aware).

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Mozilla launches Firefox Send, a free self-destructing file-sharing service

Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the Firefox web browser, has launched a new private file-sharing service called Firefox Send.
Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the Firefox web browser, has launched a new private file-sharing service called Firefox Send.

Image: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Mozilla’s latest service might make you feel like a secret spy.

The nonprofit behind the popular open-source Firefox web browser has launched its new encrypted self-destructing file-sharing platform, Firefox Send. Mozilla’s latest offering has been in beta since 2017. It officially launched on Tuesday.

Firefox Send allows users to send up to 1GB of files for free. Users can have their file size capacity bumped up to 2.5GB if they signup for a free Firefox account. Unlike other file hosting services, there is currently no paid options.

Files on Firefox Send are ephemeral. Each file link is set to expire after a certain amount of time or number of downloads.

A screenshot of the file uploading process in Firefox Send.

A screenshot of the file uploading process in Firefox Send.

Image: MOZILLA / FIREFOX SEND

To use Firefox Send, a user simply goes to the website and uploads whatever file they’d like to share right on the main page. Unless a user wants to take advantage of the extra storage space from having a Firefox account, no login is required. There are no pop-ups or advertisements, like those often found on other file uploading websites, weighing the service down either.

Once a file is uploaded, users can choose to have the download link expire in as little as 5 minutes or after one download. Firefox Send currently allows links to remain for as long as 7 days or 100 downloads. Currently, the service forces users to pick both a timeframe and a download limit and the file link will expire after whichever comes first.

Users are also given the option to password-protect their private file link. After that is set, an encrypted file link is provided for easy sharing.

A secure private file-sharing service is actually a logical step for the tech nonprofit. Mozilla has become more and more of a major privacy advocate over the years. The organization has put companies like Facebook on the spot for its bad data practices. Through its Firefox web browser, it has rolled out important privacy features to help protect its users.

According to Mozilla, a beta version of a Firefox Send for Android app will be available later this week.

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Facebook urged to offer an API for political ad transparency research

Facebook has been called upon to provide good faith researchers with an API to enable them to study how political ads are spreading and being amplified on its platform.

A coalition of European academics, technologists and human and digital rights groups, led by Mozilla, has signed an open letter to the company demanding far greater transparency about how Facebook’s platform distributes and amplifies political ads ahead of elections to the European parliament which will take place in May.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for a reaction to the open letter.

The company had already announced it will launch some of its self-styled ‘election security’ measures in the EU before then — specifically an authorization and transparency system for political ads.

Last month its new global comms guy — former European politician and one time UK deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg — also announced that, from next month, it will have human-staffed operations centers up and running to monitor how localised political news gets distributed on its platform, with one of the centers located within the EU, in Dublin, Ireland.

But signatories to the letter argue the company’s heavily PR’ed political ad transparency measures don’t go far enough.

They also point out that some of the steps Facebook has taken have blocked independent efforts to monitor its political ad transparency claims.

Last month the Guardian reported on changes Facebook had made to its platform that restricted the ability of an external political transparency campaign group, called WhoTargetsMe, to monitor and track the flow of political ads on its platform.

The UK-based campaign group is one of more than 30 groups that have signed the open letter — calling for Facebook to stop what they couch as “harassment of good faith researchers who are building tools to provide greater transparency into the advertising on your platform”.

Other signatories include the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Open Data Institute and Reporters Without Borders.

“By restricting access to advertising transparency tools available to Facebook users, you are undermining transparencyeliminating the choice of your users to install tools that help them analyse political ads, and wielding control over good faith researchers who try to review data on the platform,” they write.

“Your alternative to these third party tools provides simple keyword search functionality and does not provide the level of data access necessary for meaningful transparency.”

The letter calls on Facebook to roll out “a functional, open Ad Archive API that enables advanced research and development of tools that analyse political ads served to Facebook users in the EU” — and do so by April 1, to enable external developers to have enough time to build transparency tools before the EU elections.

Signatories also urge the company to ensure that all political ads are “clearly distinguished from other content”, as well as being accompanied by “key targeting criteria such as sponsor identity and amount spent on the platform in all EU countries”.

Last year UK policymakers investigating the democratic impacts of online disinformation pressed Facebook on the issue of what the information it provides users about the targeting criteria for political ads. They also asked the company why it doesn’t offer users a complete opt-out from receiving political ads. Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer was unable — or unwilling — to provide clear answers, instead choosing to deflect questions by reiterating the tidbits of data that Facebook has decided it will provide.

Close to a year later and Facebook users in the majority of European markets are still waiting for even a basic layer of political transparency, as the company has been allowed to continue self regulating at its own pace and — crucially — by getting to define what ‘transparency’ means (and therefore how much of the stuff users get).

Facebook launched some of these self-styled political ad transparency measures in the UK last fall — adding ‘paid for by’ disclaimers, and saying ads would be retained in an archive for seven years. (Though its verification checks had to be revised after they were quickly shown to be trivially easy to circumvent.)

Earlier in the year it also briefly suspended accepting ads paid for by foreign entities during a referendum on abortion in Ireland.

However other European elections — such as regional elections — have taken place without Facebook users getting access to any information about the political ads they’re seeing or who’s paying for them.

The EU’s executive body has its eye on the issue. Late last month the European Commission published the first batch of monthly ‘progress reports’ from platforms and ad companies that signed up to a voluntary code of conduct on political disinformation that was announced last December — saying all signatories need to do a lot more and fast.

On Facebook specifically, the Commission said it needs to provide “greater clarity” on how it will deploy consumer empowerment tools, and also boost its cooperation with fact-checkers and the research community across the whole EU — with commissioner Julian King singling the company out for failing to provide independent researchers with access to its data.

Today’s open letter from academics and researchers backs up the Commission’s assessment of feeble first efforts from Facebook and offers further fuel to feed its next monthly assessment.

The Commission has continued to warn it could legislate on the issue if platforms fail to step up their efforts to tackle political disinformation voluntarily.

Pressuring platforms to self-regulate has its own critics too, of course — who point out that it does nothing to tackle the core underlying problem of platforms having too much power in the first place…

Is that fancy smart gadget a privacy nightmare? A new guide has answers.

A million watchful eyes.
A million watchful eyes.

Image: MIKAEL BUCK / REX / SHUTTERSTOCK

These days, even your teddy bear might be out to get you. 

As the inevitable creep of “smart” features and products continues to turn everything from your refrigerator to your thermostat into a connected device, it’s worth taking a moment to consider just what you’re giving up in exchange for this wannabe Jetsons future. Thankfully, Mozilla has done a lot of that work for you with a new guide dedicated to just how insecure many smart devices are. 

It’s right in time for the end-of-year shopping season, meaning you have no excuse to buy your parents one of these potentially compromised electronic gadgets as a holiday gift. And, if you send them the guide, they won’t have an excuse for buying you one, either. 

The Privacy Not Included guide, released Nov. 14, takes a look at a range of products and evaluates them on a host of basic security standards. After all, you should know if a company is publicizing your fitness tracker data, or if your internet-connected sex toy can be easily hacked

According to Mozilla, there are five minimum things that a product or company must do in order to avoid being a complete privacy disaster for its customers. 

“The product must use encryption,” explains the guide, “the company must provide automatic security updates, if a product uses a password, it must require a strong password, the company must have a way to manage security vulnerabilities found in their products, and the company must have an accessible privacy policy.”

The categories of products rated — toys and games, smart home, entertainment, wearables, health and exercise, and pets — cover much of the connected-gadget space, and make it clear that Mozilla isn’t playing nice. 

Take, for example, its description of the Amazon Echo Show and Dot. “Now you don’t just get to wonder if Alexa is listening to you, you get to wonder if she’s watching as well.” 

A nifty infographic breaks it down even further. 

Details on the Amazon Echo Show and Dot.

Details on the Amazon Echo Show and Dot.

Image: screenshot / mozilla

Mozilla also took the unique approach of asking people to vote on a product’s creepiness factor. For example, 61 percent of people who voted on the Amazon Echo Show and Dot said it was “super creepy,” and 80 percent said they were “not likely to buy it.”

Importantly, Mozilla didn’t just do this to dunk on smart device manufacturers. Rather, the non-profit was actually trying to put some power back in the hands of consumers. 

“We hope this guide helps consumers make smart and more informed holiday shopping decisions,” explained Mozilla’s vice president of advocacy Ashley Boyd in a press release, “while also inspiring them to demand that companies make it a priority to offer products that protect their privacy and security.” 

Here’s to hoping that consumer demand, armed with Mozilla’s guide, doesn’t fall on deaf corporate ears. 

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