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Is a New Firefox Feature Spying on Users

Published on January 18, 2006 in Firefox

A proposed new feature in Mozilla Firefox automates a common web linking technique and consequently brings forth some concerns about user privacy. As of now, this feature is only in Mozilla’s nightly trunk versions (not the version of the average user would download).

Currently, many web sites send people, who click on links, to a server which counts their click and then redirects them to the link’s original destination. Firefox’s “ping” proposal lets web sites do this in a less transparent and more efficient manner. When you click on a link, a “ping” is sent to a server notifying it of your click while the browser loads the destination page. As explained in Darin’s post, “I’m sure this may raise some eye-brows among privacy conscious folks, but please know that this change is being considered with the utmost regard for user privacy. The point of this feature is to enable link tracking mechanisms commonly employed on the web to get out of the critical path and thereby reduce the time required for users to see the page they clicked on.”

This is not something that Mozilla should be including in Firefox, especially if the user cannot control the pinging taking place and be able to block the feature from any site they wish (a white list). In the end, this “ping” feature seems to be another version of tracking users and does not rise to the level of spyware. From a performance standpoint, I see the desire for this feature and it is encouraging that Mozilla has been so forthcoming about it. What does concern me, though, is another section of Darin’s post, “This change is being considered in large part because some very popular websites have asked for a solution to this problem.” I am sure that Google, Yahoo, and others are begging to have this feature enabled to help track clicks, but it is a feature very few users would ask for. I would hope Firefox continues to be a slim light-weight browser that focuses on the needs and security of the user. This “ping” is about neither and I hope is not a sign of things to come.

Update: For a good discussion of this topic see Oil Meet Water: Link Tracking in Firefox at Newsome.org and send_pings and losing my innocense by Chris Messina (of Flock fame).


  1. Daddy Yankee, January 18, 2006:

    Great article. Ans i do agree with you.

  2. Lloyd D Budd, January 19, 2006:

    This feature seems to have no negative implications as I understand it, and as Blake Ross comments on FactoryJoe’s post and as Termie comments on my post.

  3. Leslie Franke, January 20, 2006:


    The feature does not have any serious negative implications by itself. My question is more along the lines of why add this to Firefox. What user of Firefox wants and or needs this “pinging” feature. It seems not go along with the ideas that Firefox has been built on.

  4. Lloyd D Budd, January 24, 2006:

    It does not go against the ideas of Firefox either.

    A direct trip to a web page seems like a good thing to me. You have a feature like this, and maybe then it becomes interesting for the browser to do smarter things when pages try to redirect, or send info to third parties, or I don’t know.

    To me it does not seem that there is any battle to fight here.

    All the best,

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Leslie Franke:[les-lee fran-key]; 1. Husband and proud dogowner; 2. Seventh-day Adventist; 3. Web Designer; 4. Atlanta Braves Fan; 5. Northeast Ohio Native; 6. Bottle Caps Lover; 7. Certified 'Freakonomic';