Mozilla stresses privacy while testing new social API in Firefox

Mozilla is testing a new API designed to connect Firefox better with social networks while asserting that it is keeping privacy in mind.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

As part of the latest beta version of Firefox, Mozilla is testing a new social API for the purpose of better connecting and integrating social networks with the browser.

Essentially, Mozilla is aiming to bring social networking features to the user without the user having to always log in and load the social network's site first. It's a way to bake all of those push notifications and chat messages directly into the browser.

While integrating social networks in anyway possible is the rage these days, so is the topic of privacy and how this could hamper that.

Tom Lowenthal, who covers privacy and public policy on Mozilla's Privacy Blog, wrote in a post on Monday that the new social features are "completely opt-in" and are disabled until a user visits a social network and elects to turn these features on first.

Once enabled, Firefox loads several pages from your social network over secure connections. These pages are treated just as if you’d loaded them in another browser tab. They share cookies and other data like normal but they don’t get any special treatment or additional data from Firefox, nor is data about your social activities sent to Mozilla. Facebook, for example, will know that you’ve turned on the feature and loaded the pages, just as if you had visited the site.

Lowenthal cited the recommendation button as an example of where the browser could offer better privacy than the social network itself.

If we put this functionality in Firefox instead, you can still interact with your social network and share pages, but without the potential tracking by the social networks. It also allows you to share pages even if that page doesn’t include social sharing widgets. The recommend button in the URL bar — for Facebook, it’s a Like button — only sends the page’s URL to your social network when you click on it.

Being that it was referenced a number of times in the post, it is no surprise that Facebook is the first social network implementing Mozilla's new social API.

The announcement of the social API follows the launch of the Firefox Marketplace last week, with Android device owners and developers getting a first crack at the digital store.

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