22 October 2012 - 11:56Controlling what Firefox reveals to social networks

I recently released about:trackers [addons.mozilla.org] as a proof-of-concept to explore ideas of how Mozilla can protect users’ data with terms and policies [blog.mozilla.org] even after the data is shared to web sites. The term it simulates is if a site (that had access to your Firefox data) would have been able to follow you across too many sites, Firefox would stop sending cookies with those requests to reduce the risk of your user data get mixed with those sites.

I’ve been using about:trackers for a few weeks, and I’ve noticed some interesting side-effects of the add-on with social networks. But first to provide some more context, I’ll give some of my very informal observations on one aspect of how people use social networks.

People often log out of social networking sites when they aren’t actively using them. I’m not sure if they want to stop seeing their face on other websites (e.g., in comment boxes), or they don’t want the social network to be able to follow them to all the articles they read that have sharing widgets, or they just don’t want someone else from being able to post as them when they’re not around. Facebook even seems to leverage this fact that people often end up on the logged out screen and now shows content to users on that page.

Appearing logged out of Facebook when actually logged in

The interesting side-effect of the default policy in about:trackers is that I now appear logged out to Facebook even though I’m still logged in to Facebook. Now I can browse the web without actively logging out of Facebook when I’m done. This save me time from logging back when I want to use Facebook and logging out at the end while getting the best of both.

I can still see Facebook content on other sites such as the number of likes a page has and the Facebook comments because the embedded content is still getting requested — just without my personalization cookie sent to the servers. I do admit that I don’t actively click on like buttons or post comments, and some quick tests seem to indicate that functionality is not working.

Now that Social API is available for testing with Facebook [blog.mozilla.org], users have more reason to stay logged in all the time because they get easy access to friend updates and are a single click away to chat from whatever tab they are viewing in Firefox via the Social sidebar. But for some those who would have wanted to appear logged out otherwise, this unintended feature of about:trackers could help give more control back to users.

Edit: Tom just posted on the Privacy blog about this topic of being social with privacy in mind [blog.mozilla.org], and he goes into more detail about what happens now on the web with social networks. He also points out how the Social API can lead to better privacy because users are in control of when they inform Facebook of a URL by clicking the Like button in the location bar. Looks like both of us are helping users get more control of their data and privacy, and these two posts show that there are multiple options to get there.

11 Comments | Tags: Add-on, Facebook, Mozilla, User Data

5 October 2012 - 10:56about:profile – interest categories vs demographics

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been checking out my about:profile page [addons.mozilla.org], and I’ve been pretty surprised at how accurate it can get even though it’s a simple proof of concept to initiate discussions on how Mozilla should be analyzing data in the Firefox [blog.mozilla.org].

Overall categorization and detailed/recent interests

It shares some ideas with what Margaret implemented for about:me [wiki.mozilla.org] such as processing the local data within Firefox and not sending data out of Firefox, except in about:profile, we’re trying to generate higher-level concepts such as an interest category as opposed to statistics of your browser behavior. We happened to go with some readily available domain data of ODP categories and Alexa siteinfo, and we selected some hundreds of top sites to package into the add-on. So while the reference data is not an exhaustive list, it seems to work for quite a few people I’ve shown the add-on to.

Our somewhat arbitrary choices of category interests and site demographics got me thinking about what we could do with this data in Firefox, and I seem to keep coming back to this distinction of category data actually shows what I’m interested in whereas demographics appears to create a label/characteristic that opens things up to preconceived judgements. I suppose in other words, the former is based on something I did vs the latter is something I am. (Although technically, the about:profile experiment is trying to guess at who you are based on what you did.)

I’m sure others will be able to better describe the differences between the two, but I wonder if because there appears to be a fundamental difference, we should go about presenting the data differently to the user. For example, perhaps users will be happy to explicitly give Firefox one’s demographic data whereas trying to have the user create a list of interested categories might be overwhelming.

I’m excited that we’ve released the add-on to get a conversation started because there’s so many different ways to analyze the data in Firefox, and each method can lead to interesting discussions such as this one about categories vs demographics.

No Comments | Tags: Add-on, Development, Labs, Mozilla

25 May 2012 - 12:54Copy Selected urls from the AwesomeBar

I happened to switch to #fx-team to see madhava asking for an easier way to copy/paste urls from the AwesomeBar into the page. So whipped together something to do just that!

Just switch to the location bar by pressing ctrl/cmd-L, start searching, highlight the result you want, and press ctrl/cmd-enter. The url will be in the clipboard and automatically pasted to wherever you left off in the page.

And of course this works with Enter Selects, so you don’t even need to press down to copy the first result. Enter Selects automatically highlights it, so you can type out the page you want, and directly hit ctrl/cmd-enter and you’re done!

Try out Copy Selected or check out the code on github. (This is neater than I expected! I just used the functionality 3 times in one post. ;))

5 Comments | Tags: Add-on, AwesomeBar, Mozilla

29 March 2012 - 9:42Enter Selects with Inline Autocomplete

Firefox will soon have inline autocomplete [blog.mozilla.com] in the AwesomeBar, so I’ve updated Enter Selects [addons.mozilla.org] to be compatible with that new functionality.

If you’ve previously used Enter Selects, the behavior will now be the same as it was before — pressing [Enter] after typing in the AwesomeBar will automatically select the first result from the list. This is different from the new inline autocomplete behavior of completing a domain or url that begins with the letters you’ve typed.

Enter automatically selects the highlighted first result.

Enter Selects’ behavior is good for you if you tend to type words that match in the title or mid-url or use multiple words where the AwesomeBar’s adaptive behavior will push these non-prefix domain matches to the top. If you do want inline autocomplete after Enter Selects highlights the first result, just press [Up] to edit or load the inline-completed url.

Just as before, Firefox’s adaptive learning behavior will push the sites that you frequently visit to the top, so quite quickly, you’ll be able to type 1 letter and press [Enter] to go to the page you want.

I’ve also revamped the code from the original Firefox 3 implementation to be restartless by using the Add-on SDK [addons.mozilla.org]. Additionally I converted the repository from hg to git for people to fork [github.com].

“what a fine add-on! Saves so much on needless keystrokes!” “Thanks a lot, this function is easy but necessary, now I can forget about chrome~” “This is the BOMB! This should be a built-in feature in Firefox, as it is with IE9. Keep up the good work!” –st3ve, yaapal, Deep Thought [addons.mozilla.org]

Try out restartless Enter Selects in Firefox! [addons.mozilla.org]

23 Comments | Tags: Add-on, AwesomeBar, Development, Mozilla