How to Protect Against Website Trackers in Firefox

If you want a little more privacy while surfing the web, Firefox offers different options to defend you against trackers.

Image: James Martin/CNET

Mozilla’s Firefox offers a built-in feature through which you can fight against websites and ad trackers. But using the feature isn’t as simple as activating it. The browser gives you the choice of three different tracking plans: standard, strict, and custom. The trick is to fight trackers while still being able to fully utilize the websites you need. Here’s how to control Firefox’s Tracking Protection to make sure it strikes the right balance.

First, make sure you’re using the latest version of Firefox. Click the hamburger icon in the top right, select Help, then click About Firefox. The browser will search for the latest update and install it if necessary.

SEE: Password breach: Why pop culture and passwords don’t mix (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

To view and control Browser Tracking Protection, click the hamburger icon again and select Settings. On the Settings screen, select the Privacy & Security category. Note the three different plans for tracking protection.

Standard protections

The Standard plan is probably the easiest because there’s nothing to set up and it will block the most common types of tracking while allowing you to fully utilize any website. Click the Standard button to activate this plan (Figure A).

Figure A

The Standard plan blocks the following types of content:

  • Social Media Trackers
  • Cross-site tracking cookies
  • Cross-site cookies in private windows
  • Content tracking in private windows
  • Cryptominers
  • Fingerprints

Strict Protection

If you’re concerned about unblocked tracking in the Standard plan, you can try the Strict plan. Click the button for Strict. This one is stricter than the Standard plan because it also blocks cross-site cookies in all windows (including tracking cookies) and content tracking in all windows. The downside is that this level of protection can cause issues with websites that require certain cookies and level of tracking to fully function (Figure B).

Figure B

After choosing the Strict plan, use the web as you normally would. If you encounter a site that is not behaving under the Strict protection plan, a notice will appear to require cookies or some site functionality will simply not work. In general, problems are likely to arise if you try to interact with the site, i.e. log in, fill out forms, leave a comment, or make a purchase.

If you need to use the problematic site and you know it is safe and reliable and want strict protection enabled, click the shield icon in front of the URL in the address bar. Click on each of the items under Blocked to see what types of trackers have been blocked. Next, turn off the switch for Enhanced Tracking Protection. The site will reload with trackers that will no longer be blocked. Try to reproduce the behavior that triggered an error to see if the site now works correctly (Figure C).

Figure C

Personalized Protection

A third option is the custom plan. This one gives you the most control but also requires the most setup effort. Depending on how you customize this one, you may also come across some websites not behaving properly. To try this plan, click the button for Custom (Figure D).

Figure D

The challenge now is to enable or disable each type of protection depending on what you want to block. When cookies are enabled, click the drop-down list next to this item. You can now choose the types of cookies to block: cross-site tracking cookies; cross-site tracking cookies and isolate other cross-site cookies; cookies from unvisited websites; all third-party cookies; or all cookies.

Disabling all cookies will definitely cause websites to crash, so it’s not a viable option. Disabling all third-party cookies may cause many sites to misbehave, similar to choosing the Strict plan. Your best bet is to choose one of the first three parameters (Figure E).

Figure E

Next, you’ll probably want to block tracking content. Click on the drop-down list next to it and choose to block it only in private windows or in all windows. You might want to try all windows first and see how the websites you use respond (Figure F).

Figure F

Make sure cryptominers and fingerprints are blocked. If you intentionally try to use a cryptomining site, you can always turn off tracking protection just for that site.

Finally, if you chose the Strict or Custom plan and added websites as exceptions, you can view and manage those sites. On the Privacy and Security screen, click the button at the top to Manage exceptions. To remove an individual site and allow it to be blocked from tracking, select it and click the Remove Website button. To remove all sites from the list, click the Remove All Websites button. When you’re done, click Save Changes (G-figure).

G-figure

Sherry J. Basler