New Mozilla Privacy Initiative to Include High-Capacity Tor Relays

Mozilla is starting a new initiative that the company says is designed to incorporate more privacy enhancing features into Firefox and the other Mozilla products.

Mozilla is starting a new initiative that the company says is designed to incorporate more privacy enhancing features into Firefox and the other Mozilla products. The project, known as Polaris, involves collaboration with The Tor Project and the Center for Democracy and Technology and will involve Mozilla running a group of high-speed Tor relays, as well.

Privacy has become a major issue for users across the spectrum, not just the security conscious or paranoid. Consumers now are seeking out privacy enhancing tools and shunning those that infringe on their expectations of online privacy. The NSA revelations of the last 18 months also have helped make privacy a key concern for enterprises and their customers.

“Polaris is a privacy initiative built to pull together our own privacy efforts along with other privacy leaders in the industry. Polaris is designed to allow us to collaborate more effectively, more explicitly and more directly to bring more privacy features into our products. We want to accelerate pragmatic and user-focused advances in privacy technology for the Web, giving users more control, awareness and protection in their Web experiences. We want to advance the state of the art in privacy features, with a specific focus on bringing them to more mainstream audiences,” Denelle Dixon-Thayer of Mozilla said in a blog post.

Polaris is trying to address that privacy concern among users in a variety of ways. The first tangible piece of the project is the collaboration with the Tor Project. Tor historically has been used by a variety of groups, but mainly it has been popular among activists, journalists and those in the security and privacy communities. Its popularity has grown significantly in the last year or so The network is designed to allow users to browse the Web anonymously and privately, but it can be slow, especially on less-than-ideal network infrastructures. Mozilla’s move to operate a set of high-speed Tor relays will help address that problem and make the network more usable.

“First, Mozilla engineers are evaluating the Tor Project’s changes to Firefox, to determine if changes to our own platform codebase can enable Tor to work more quickly and easily. Mozilla will also soon begin hosting our own high-capacity Tor middle relays to make Tor’s network more responsive and allow Tor to serve more users,” Dixon-Thayer said.

Mozilla also is enabling a new privacy feature in Firefox related to user tracking. The feature is in very early releases of the browser now.

“The second experiment (which is our first in-product Polaris experiment) seeks to understand how we can offer a feature that protects those users that want to be free from invasive tracking without penalizing advertisers and content sites that respect a user’s preferences. We’re currently testing this privacy tool in our “Nightly” channel. The experiment is promising, but it’s not a full-fledged feature yet.  We’ll test and refine the user experience and platform behavior over the coming months and collect feedback from all sides before this is added to our general release versions,” Dixon-Thayer said.

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