Mozilla usually does not announce incremental Firefox browser updates unless there is an urgent security or bug fix, but the Firefox 33.1 browser, released Nov. 10, is an exception. Firefox 33.1 is a special release for Mozilla that closely coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Firefox 1.0 debut, back on November 9, 2004.
The Firefox 33.1 update follows the Firefox 33 release, which came out Oct. 14, providing users with both security and feature updates. The next major Firefox update, version 34, is scheduled to be out the last week of November.
With Firefox 33.1, Mozilla is aiming to boost user privacy with the new Forget Button. With the Forget Button, users now have the simple click button option on their main browser interface to erase recent history and cookies for the last five minutes, two hours or 24 hours of browsing.
With the Forget Button, Mozilla isn't really adding new functionality; rather, it is exposing an existing capability and making it easier to use. Prior versions of Firefox also enabled users to delete history and cookies, though the option was somewhat buried in the browser's menu system. Firefox also provides its users with a Private Mode that first debuted with the Firefox 3.1 release in 2008. In Private Mode, all of a user's history and cookie information from the browser session is forgotten when the browser is closed.
Mozilla has also now added the DuckDuckGo search engine as an option for the Firefox search dialogue box. DuckDuckGo offers the promise of improved privacy in contrast with other search options, like Google. While DuckDuckGo is now an option, Mozilla is not making it the default, but rather offering it as a choice. Mozilla has a long-term relationship with Google, which is the primary source of Mozilla's revenue.
While Mozilla is emphasizing privacy improvements in Firefox 33.1, it is using the new browser release to debut its Enhanced Tiles feature, which leverages a user's browsing history to provide Mozilla partner messages. When the idea of providing messages in the tiles was first announced in February, Mozilla faced some tough questions and criticisms about its privacy policies and whether it was selling ads based on user information. The Enhanced Tiles features shows the Mozilla partner messages on the Firefox user's new tab page.
"Data collection is limited to the aggregate number of impressions, clicks and Tile placement," Mozilla's Enhanced Tiles feature Web page explains. "Nothing is ever personally identifiable."
Going beyond just the Firefox 33.1 release itself, Mozilla is now also launching a privacy effort it has dubbed the Polaris Initiative. The basic goal of Polaris is to help advance the state of privacy online.
As part of Polaris, Mozilla has outlined two key initial efforts. The first is that Mozilla will soon be a host for Tor relays in a bid to help improve the stability of the Tor network. Tor is an anonymizing network technology where user traffic is routed through multiple-relay routers to help hide the origination point of the user.
Polaris also includes a new tracking protection feature that is currently in the Firefox Nightly branch of development. The Firefox Nightly branch represents the leading edge of Mozilla's development efforts.
"With Tracking Protection enabled, Firefox doesn't load included resources from tracking domains, preventing transmission of identifiers such as cookies," Mozilla's Tracking Protection feature Web page explains. "Essentially, it asks the question: what would the Web feel like if a 'Do Not Track' signal were more widely respected."
The Do Not Track (DNT) feature debuted in the Firefox 4 release in 2011. Do Not Track, however, requires the user to click an option in Firefox to disallow tracking, and then requires the given Website to actually honor the Do Not Track request. DNT uptake over the years has had some ups and downs, and in May of this year, Yahoo backed out of supporting DNT across its Web properties.
Additionally, the Firefox developer edition includes the Valence feature set, formerly known as the Firefox tools adapter project. With Valence, developers can use the Firefox developer tools to debug Chrome on Android and Safari on iOS.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.