October 22, 2019

Firefox 69 arrives with third-party tracking cookies and cryptomining blocked by default

Mozilla today launched Firefox 69 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. Firefox 69 includes third-party tracking cookies and cryptomining blocked by default, performance improvements on Windows 10, better battery life on macOS, and asks for permission before turning on Flash.

Firefox 69 for desktop is available for download now on Firefox.com, and all existing users should be able to upgrade to it automatically. The Android version is trickling out slowly on Google Play. According to Mozilla, Firefox has about 250 million active users, making it a major platform for web developers to consider.

Enhanced Tracking Protection

Mozilla added basic Tracking Protection to Firefox 42’s private browsing mode in November 2015. The feature blocked website elements (ads, analytics trackers, and social share buttons). Firefox 57 arrived in November 2017 with an option to enable Tracking Protection outside of private browsing, but it wasn’t on by default (it could break websites and cut off revenue for content creators).

In August 2018, Mozilla announced Firefox would block trackers by default. Firefox 63 arrived in October with Enhanced Tracking Protection, blocking cookies and storage access from third-party trackers. Firefox 65, released in January, added Content Blocking controls with three controls for the blocking feature:

  • Standard: The default, where Firefox blocks known trackers and third-party tracking cookies in general.
  • Strict: For people who want a bit more protection and don’t mind if some sites break.
  • Custom: For those who want complete control to pick and choose what trackers and cookies they want to block.

In June, Mozilla turned on Enhanced Tracking Protection for new downloads of Firefox as part of the Standard setting. Third-party tracking cookies from over 2,500 tracking domains are blocked without users having to change anything. For those that already had Firefox, Mozilla planned to roll out Enhanced Tracking Protection by default “in the coming months.” That time has now come.

Firefox's Enhanced Tracking Protection is on by default

Enhanced Tracking Protection shows up as a shield icon in the address bar. Click on it, open the Content Blocking section, and then hit Cookies. The Blocking Tracking Cookies section shows the companies Firefox has blocked and lets you turn off blocking for a specific site. The feature focuses on third-party trackers (the ad industry) while allowing first-party cookies (logins, where you last left off, and so on).

Cryptomining and fingerprinting

As part of its crackdown, Mozilla also wanted to tackle cryptomining, which uses your CPU to generate cryptocurrency for someone else, and fingerprinting, which builds a digital fingerprint that tracks you across the web. The company started testing blocking cryptomining and fingerprinting in April. Then the options to block each one arrived with Firefox 67 in May.

Firefox users can access these options by either clicking on the small “i” icon in the address bar and clicking on the gear on the right side under Content Blocking or by going to Preferences, Privacy & Security, and then Content Blocking. From there, select Custom and check “Cryptominers” and/or “Fingerprinters.” Both were off by default. With Firefox 69, cryptomining is now blocked by default as part of the Standard setting. Firefox 69 also blocks fingerprinting as part of the Strict setting, and Mozilla plans to turn it on by default in a later release.

Windows, Mac, and Linux

Enhanced Tracking Protection aside, Firefox 69 also brings a few other notable improvements. Firefox desktop users can now block autoplaying videos that don’t have sound. Windows 10 users can also expect improved performance while macOS users can expect better battery life.

With Firefox 69, the browser will now always ask for your permission before turning on Flash content. This is ahead of Flash’s planned death in 2020.

Here’s the full Firefox 69 for desktop changelog:

  • Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) rolls out stronger privacy protections. The default standard setting for this feature now blocks third-party tracking cookies and cryptominers. The optional strict setting blocks fingerprinters as well as the items blocked in the standard setting.
  • The Block Autoplay feature is enhanced to give users the option to block any video that automatically starts playing, not just those that automatically play with sound.
  • For our users in the US or using the en-US browser, we are shipping a new “New Tab” page experience that connects you to the best of Pocket’s content.
  • Support for the Web Authentication HmacSecret extension via Windows Hello now comes with this release, for versions of Windows 10 May 2019 or newer, enabling more passwordless experiences on the web.
  • Support for receiving multiple video codecs with this release makes it easier for WebRTC conferencing services to mix video from different clients.
  • For our users on Windows 10, you’ll see performance and UI improvements. Firefox will give Windows hints to appropriately set content process priority levels, meaning more processor time spent on the tasks you’re actively working on, and less processor time spent on things in the background (with the exception of video and audio playback). For our existing Windows 10 users, you can easily find and launch Firefox from a shortcut on the Win10 taskbar.
  • For our users on macOS, battery life and download UI are both improved. macOS users on dual-graphics-card machines (like MacBook Pro) will switch back to the low-power GPU more aggressively, saving battery life. Finder on macOS now displays download progress for files being downloaded.
  • JIT support comes to ARM64 for improved performance of our JavaScript Optimizing JIT compiler.
  • Various security fixes
  • As previously announced in the Plugin Roadmap for Firefox, the “Always Activate” option for Flash plugin content has been removed. Firefox will now always ask for user permission before activating Flash content on a website.
  • With the deprecation of Adobe Flash Player, there is no longer a need to identify users on 32-bit version of the Firefox browser on 64-bit version operating systems reducing user agent fingerprinting factors providing greater level of privacy to our users as well as improving the experience of downloading other apps.
  • Firefox no longer loads userChrome.css or userContent.css by default improving start-up performance. Users who wish to customize Firefox by using these files can set the toolkit.legacyUserProfileCustomizations.stylesheets preference to true to restore this ability.
  • For Enterprise system administrators that manage macOS computers, we begin shipping a Mozilla signed PKG installer to simplify your deployments.
  • For our mobile web developers, we have migrated remote debugging from the old WebIDE into a re-designed about:debugging, making debugging GeckoView on remote devices via USB rock solid.
  • The new event listener breakpoint feature allows developers to pause on a host of different event types, whether it be related to animations, DOM, media, mouse, touch, worker, and many other event types.
  • Firefox Developer Tools now offers an audit for the presence of text alternatives for non-text content, the a11y panel checks toolbar has been augmented to better help developers adhere to WCAG Guideline 1.1.

If you’re a web developer, you’ll want to get more details here: Firefox 69 for developers.

Android

Firefox 69 for Android is a minor release. That’s because the Android team is mainly focused on Firefox Preview.

Mozilla releases new Firefox versions every six to eight weeks, and Firefox 70 is currently slated for mid-October.