One of the most talked-about improvements to Firefox version 3.5 is its overhauled privacy system. The guys at Mozilla have really outdone themselves this time, offering us more privacy options than even a CIA agent would know what to do with. In an attempt to untangle the confusion that these options present, I’m going to lay out the basics so that hopefully those of you with a scandalous internet secret to hide will know exactly how to go about it.
Three of the new features – private browsing, clear recent history and forget about this site – have already been covered elsewhere and discussed in our recent video on the release. There are more options, however, that will definitely help you find the perfect level of privacy for your needs. The privacy settings under “Options” are worth a little investigation. By default, Firefox is set to remember browsing history, so when you open the “Privacy” tab, it will look like this:
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that this doesn’t look very customizable, but think again. Just scroll down to “use custom settings for history”, and suddenly a whole world of options will appear.
In all truth, this is just a slightly more advanced version of the options in previous versions of Firefox, but it’s always nice to have increased tweakability. Of particular note are “automatically start Firefox in private browsing session” and “clear history when Firefox closes“, perfect options for the most paranoid (or delinquent) among you.
Another privacy option also lurks in the Tools > Options > Privacy window – the Location Bar. Firefox allows you to control what appears in the location bar when typing in addresses etc., and prevents anything from popping up when you least want it to. Here you can choose from “History and Bookmarks” (default), just history, just bookmarks, or nothing.
With all this emphasis on privacy, it’s hard not to assume that Firefox is expecting the worst from its users. Private browsing, selective erasing, cherry-picking what turns up in the address bar so other users don’t suspect a thing… well, it’s all a bit depressing. Even the new icon that indicates the privacy tab in “options” is a tiny Venetian mask, an unambiguous reference to deception and pretending to be someone (or something) you’re not. That said, Firefox developers are realists and know that lots of people use the internet to do things that they wouldn’t like their friends and family to find out about. I also have to admit that there are probably instances when somebody would want to hide their tracks, but for perfectly reputable pursuits. Even so, Firefox’s opportunities for “privacy” are so many and varied that I feel a little guilty just talking about them….