Tag Archives: Fennec

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.

Mozilla outsources newsgroups to Google, development to Microsoft GitHub, and stuffs proprietary tracking into Firefox for Android. The user experience is falling apart.

Many years ago, Mozilla used to stand for things. The years have not been kind. They ran out Brendan Eich over political views that are not illegal to have or express, but rather due to Cancel Culture, then they proceeded to tear down the things that made Firefox different and special.

Today, Firefox is packed full of proprietary programs and is pretty much a thrall of Google and Microsoft.

As Mozilla outsources development to Microsoft GitHub, and sends their mailing lists to Google Groups instead of allowing anyone with an NNTP (newsgroup) reader to access it, and SeaMonkey (a holdover from the “internet suite” days of web browsing) is constantly and increasingly in a state of disrepair, what makes Firefox “different”?

They used to say that they would never make an iPhone version until Apple got rid of its policy on not allowing other web rendering engines. A policy that is in place to enforce Apple’s App Store monopoly, which is the subject of the lawsuit against them by Epic. Apple not only refuses to implement modern web platform features in order to avoid competing with Progressive Web Apps that would look and feel native, they hold “other browsers” back further than this on the iOS devices by frequently refusing to expose APIs that Safari can use.

Today, Apple’s policy against real web browsers on iOS is still in place, but some piece of crap calling itself Firefox is in the App Store.

Shortly after this, Mozilla made more concessions by agreeing to ship a proprietary DRM module from Google, called Widevine, which has failed to “protect content” (as all DRM schemes do), saying it was “necessary for compatibility”. I’ve turned it off and never allowed it to load and I don’t use Netflix. (It’s mostly low cost filler that they put in to make it look populated, but that’s an aside.)

In the announcement on Widevine, Mozilla admitted that Firefox is no longer open source. Unfortunately, on Windows it never has been, because it requires proprietary compilers from Microsoft.

Widevine has even been used to assemble malware that runs in the user’s web browser in order to fingerprint them. Reddit chained together an attack that uses it.

Today when I was looking through TrackerControl from the F-Droid store, it told me there were proprietary tracking libraries in Fennec F-Droid, the Free and Open Source alternative that removes this sort of junk from upstream builds of Firefox. So, what the hell was going on?

Well, it turns out that Mozilla has pages explaining that they use third party proprietary tracking libraries for all sorts of reasons. None of them are, I feel, acceptable reasons. I don’t want to run any of them on my phone.

Thankfully, it seems as they were only detected because F-Droid replaced them with dummy libraries to make the build succeed and the libraries only “load” in the sense that they fail to do anything at all and then exit.

Back in the late 90s when adware and spyware were relatively new concepts in the field of computer viruses, this sort of behavior would have been labeled as such.

In fact, the first adware modules were so crude that many people made Shareware that was “ad sponsored” function without ads by, creating dummy dlls that loaded and failed, but tricked the program into working.

It’s sad that we’ve finally reached this point on Firefox for Android.

There’s virtually no innovation left at Mozilla after the layoffs and Mitchell Baker has been operating it like her own personal piggybank.

They used to ask users for donations, but I wonder who would do that today, knowing that her personal cost to the company is over $2.5 million dollars per year, and seeing that Firefox is constantly pestering them with “Sponsored Content”, “VPN services” with questionable privacy practices, “ClownFlare” DNS with Comcrap TRRs, and so on.

Mozilla gave Comcast, one of the most notorious internet villains, an award for privacy. Techrights reports that Comcast “cooperates with the police 100% of the time“.

Also, they almost always have something to give them because Comcast spies on their customers to drive targeted ads if they are not using a secure no-log VPN or Tor Browser. Whoops.

Worst of all, in exchange for whoring itself out for cash, Mozilla isn’t even deriving any substantial revenue from anything but search.

Some people suspect that the only thing keeping it going these days is that if there are no other web engines besides Chromium, which is yet worse for the user, antitrust regulators will move in and give Google a problem.

Due to Chromium being the de facto web platform, and Mozilla doing all it can just to keep up, the days of being able to throw a rock and hit 100 other (real) web browsers are over.

It might be said that the closest thing left to a Free Software web browser is GNOME Web, which few GNU/Linux distributions even ship by default. I hope that distributions that value their users look into this situation. If they decide to continue shipping FIrefox, they ought to be patching out tracking, ads, and “DNS-Over-HTTPS”.

OpenBSD, an operating system concerned foremost with security, patched DNS-Over-HTTPS to set the preference to OFF because the end result is essentially a supercookie which lets Cloudflare keep tabs on a user everywhere they go if it is turned on, and which might cause the user to be tracked, even if they’re in a VPN.

In closing, the number of things the user needs to turn off in Firefox is growing to be nearly as big as those “Windows 10 Privacy” lists. This is insane. Users don’t want to be tracked, fingerprinted, advertised to, and experimented on.

Back to the Mac, where you have a bunch of hipsters who prostrate themselves to Apple by using Safari, some people opened the new M1 port of Firefox for the Mac that Mozilla seems to be squandering resources on (Apple Silicon being the buzz word), and found that it tries to allocate itself 50 GB of memory and then freezes. (There’s many other posts reporting this.)

I’m personally wondering if there’s something to sync Fennec F-Droid to on the PC that is basically Firefox with all of this stuff stripped out.

Even Fennec is not what it used to be. Ever since Mozilla went to GeckoView, the Android version of Firefox has lost compatibility with all but a few extensions, and Bypass Paywalls isn’t in the list of ones you can install. This inconveniences me because no matter what I use on Android now, I have to clear my cookies every couple of articles.

I almost kind of hate to see this continuing to unfold. Mozilla should have started their own search engine years ago. They’d probably be fairly popular considering that, at one time, they had almost half of all web users and could have defaulted to themselves for search, and been their own ad network. Instead, they renew their search deal every few years, Google gives them about half of what they got last time, and things keep rolling along. Slower, until there’s nothing left.