Mozilla refutes claims that Firefox Focus collects user data

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Firefox Focus is one of the few browsers that work on protecting user privacy by blocking analytics and social trackers. However, a recent report from German newspaper Deutschlandfunk claims the app is itself collecting user data from iOS devices.

Security researcher Peter Welchering told Deutschlandfunk that Firefox Klar, the German version of Firefox Focus, collects personal user information. The browser then sends the data to the servers of Adjust GmbH, a German data aggregation firm with a business relationship with Mozilla.

According to the researcher, Mozilla disguises the data collection feature under the “Send anonymous usage data” option in Firefox Focus. By default, the option comes enabled with each new iOS installation. Welchering alleged that data sent to Adjust includes personal details that are not anonymized.

Introduced in November last year, Firefox Focus is indeed collecting user data. Mozilla’s support page detailing data collection practices discloses what data the browser collects from users.

What data does Firefox Focus collect?

Mozilla also acknowledged its connection with Adjust, saying Firefox Focus contains the Adjust SDK. The browser transmits anonymous attribution request to Adjust’s servers for a new install. The request contains a description about whether the app was downloaded via the App Store or through a third-part source. It also includes other data such as IP address, country, language, operating system, and app version. It is worth noting that the IP address seems to be the only personal information included in the SDK. The support page states:

Firefox for iOS, Firefox Focus, Firefox Klar and Android will also occasionally send anonymous summaries about how often the application has been used. These summaries only include information regarding whether the app has been in active use recently and when.

Additionally, Firefox Focus and Firefox Klar will also report what features of the application are being used. It will send an anonymous report containing the specific filters being selected and count how many times the search, browse and erase button is pressed.

How to disable data collection

The data collection option is not without a kill switch. Mozilla says users can turn off this reporting in the Settings menu:

  • Firefox for iOS: Tap the menu button at the bottom of the screen, followed by the Settings icon. (You might need to swipe to the left first). Turn the switch off next to Send Anonymous Usage Data.
  • Firefox for Android: Tap the menu button (either below the screen on some devices or at the top-right corner of the browser) followed by Settings (you may need to tap More first) . Tap on the Privacy section and remove the check mark next to Firefox Health Report.
  • Firefox Focus & Firefox Klar: Tap the settings button at the top right of the screen. If you are in the browser you may have to hit the Erase button first. Turn the switch off next to Send Anonymous Usage Data.

It now appears Mozilla’s only fault is enabling the feature by default. The good news is that no data is processed without first being anonymized.

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