Mozilla’s Firefox browser has a new feature to prevent companies from tracking users.
As part of Firefox version 102, the browser can now automatically remove URL tracking parameters from websites. The feature is called “Query Parameter Removal”. For those unfamiliar with the practice of URL parameters, it’s commonly used by social media and other companies to track which links people click on.
For instance, beeping computer describes various URL trackers that Firefox can now block, including those used by companies like Facebook, Marketo, Olytics, etc. :
- Facebook (fbclid=, mc_eid=)
- Olytics (oly_enc_id=, oly_anon_id=)
- Drip (__s=)
- Vero (vero_id=)
- HubSpot (_hsenc=)
- Market (mkt_tok=)
Typically, these URL parameters include a string of letters and numbers after the equal sign (=). For example: “https://www.example.com/?fbclid=IwAR4HesRZLT-fxhhh3nZ7WKsOpaiFzsg4nH0K4WLRHw1h467GdRjaLilWbLs”.
beeping computer also generated a test page with “example.com” links containing each of the above trackers so that users can test whether their browser removes these parameters from their URLs. You can check out this test site here (click one of the links on the page, then check the URL bar to see if it contains any of the URL trackers listed).
How to enable query parameter stripping
Unfortunately, Firefox query parameter stripping is not enabled by default. To access this feature, users must switch Firefox’s “Enhanced Tracking Protection” feature to “Strict”. In addition to removing URL trackers, Strict mode blocks social media trackers, cross-site cookies, content tracking, cryptominers, and fingerprinting. It can also break some websites or cause some elements to display incorrectly.
As someone who uses Firefox regularly, and often with “strict” enhanced tracking protection, the biggest issue I’ve noticed is that it interferes with embedded social media posts (like Twitter or Instagram). Of course, there can be broader issues as well, so for some using Strict mode, it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get URL parameters removed.
To enable Strict Mode, open Firefox Settings > Privacy & Security > Enhanced Tracking Protection > Strict. beeping computer Also note that this does not affect Firefox’s private browsing mode (read: incognito mode), so if you also want to enable URL stripping in private mode, you will need to toggle some settings in the “about:config” menu . beeping computer has detailed instructions for it here.
Alternative solutions for non-Firefox users
While adding the feature is a step in the right direction, it’s worth noting that Firefox only removes a limited number of URL trackers. beeping computer notes that Brave, a Chromium-based browser focused on privacy and cryptography, blocks additional URL trackers. However, for those who do not wish to switch browsers, the “ClearURLs” extension can serve the same purpose.
ClearURLs can be added to most modern browsers and handles the task of removing URL tracking parameters. I’ve been using ClearURL for a long time and will probably continue to use it for the foreseeable future, as it covers so much more than the built-in cleaner Firefox uses.
That said, ideally Firefox’s built-in future eventually improves enough that ClearURLs is no longer needed. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with ClearURLs – it’s just that I’d rather minimize the number of extensions I use when possible.
You can learn more about ClearURLs here.
Query Parameter Removal is one of the many privacy features that Mozilla recently added to Firefox. Earlier this month, Mozilla rolled out “Total Cookie Protection,” which gives each website its own cookie box so sites can’t spy on your other online activities. You can read more about it here.
Source: Computer beeping