Firefox for Android no longer gives the user control over the browsing experience. Privacy Browser turns off JavaScript by default.

Firefox/Fennec for Android no longer give the user significant control over the browsing experience.

The browser that said it was on a mission to enable users to “take back the Web” has been falling from grace for years, starting with Digital Restrictions Malware module, Widevine, and then quickly moving to remove a lot of features and then relegating them to extensions, which were then neutered in order to make them easier to port over from Chrome.

But nothing has made me more upset than what has happened to Firefox (or Fennec, the Free and Open Source version) for Android.

Mozilla’s move to GeckoView rendered over 99% of all Firefox extensions incompatible with the mobile browser, including bypass paywalls, and there is no longer any way that I’m aware of to turn off JavaScript.

Major news Web sites like the New York Times are now unreadable in Firefox for Android because I can’t simply block their paywall like I can in my desktop browser, so I decided to try out Privacy Browser for Android, which is in the F-Droid store.

As the name implies, it disables many privacy invading Web technologies like JavaScript, by default, but you can turn them on again if you want to. In my experience, many news Web sites that load paywalls work in Privacy Browser because the JavaScript that enforces their paywall fails to execute. So now whenever I run into a paywall, I have to switch to a different browser.

Privacy Browser can work with the Tor network Orbot program, but it would be better to use Tor Browser itself if you need actual anonymity, as Privacy Browser relies on the Chromium WebView engine and that is proprietary and Google makes it very difficult to properly secure.

The Privacy Browser maintainers say that they plan on forking WebView into “Privacy WebView” and bundling it in version 4.0, which will definitely deserve another look.

Right now, I’m not using it expecting privacy. I’m using it because Mozilla is making Firefox impossible for the user to control at all, and in many cases I don’t want JavaScript on anyway.

2 responses to “Firefox for Android no longer gives the user control over the browsing experience. Privacy Browser turns off JavaScript by default.”

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