Firefox search update

Firefox search update

An illustration shows the Firefox logo, a fox curled up in a circle.

Innovation and privacy go hand in hand here at Mozilla. To continue developing features and products that resonate with our users, we’re adopting a new approach to better understand how you engage with Firefox. Rest assured, the way we gather these insights will always put user privacy first.

What’s new in Firefox’s approach to search data 

To improve Firefox based on your needs, understanding how users interact with essential functions like search is key. We’re ramping up our efforts to enhance search experience by developing new features like Firefox Suggest, which provides recommended online content that corresponds to queries. To make sure that features like this work well, we need better insights on overall search activity – all without trading off on our commitment to user privacy. Our goal is to understand what types of searches are happening so that we can prioritize the correct features by use case.

With the latest version of Firefox for U.S. desktop users, we’re introducing a new way to measure search activity broken down into high level categories. This measure is not linked with specific individuals and is further anonymized using a technology called OHTTP to ensure it can’t be connected with user IP addresses.    

Let’s say you’re using Firefox to plan a trip to Spain and search for “Barcelona hotels.” Firefox infers that the search results fall under the category of “travel,” and it increments a counter to calculate the total number of searches happening at the country level.

Here’s the current list of categories we’re using: animals, arts, autos, business, career, education, fashion, finance, food, government, health, hobbies, home, inconclusive, news, real estate, society, sports, tech and travel.

Having an understanding of what types of searches happen most frequently will give us a better understanding of what’s important to our users, without giving us additional insight into individual browsing preferences. This helps us take a step forward in providing a browsing experience that is more tailored to your needs, without us stepping away from the principles that make us who we are. 

What Firefox’s search data collection means for you

We understand that any new data collection might spark some questions. Simply put, this new method only categorizes the websites that show up in your searches — not the specifics of what you’re personally looking up. 

Sensitive topics, like searching for particular health care services, are categorized only under broad terms like health or society. Your search activities are handled with the same level of confidentiality as all other data regardless of any local laws surrounding certain health services. 

Remember, you can always opt out of sending any technical or usage data to Firefox. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to adjust your settings. We also don’t collect category data when you use Private Browsing mode on Firefox.  

As far as user experience goes, you won’t see any visible changes in your browsing. Our new approach to data will just enable us to better refine our product features and offerings in ways that matter to you. 

We’re here to make the internet safer, faster and more in tune with what you need – just as we have since open-sourcing our browser code more than 25 years ago. Thanks for being part of our journey!

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