Mozilla's Focus by Firefox Brings Content Blocking to Apple iOS

Mozilla claims its free Focus by Firefox app isn't just about tracking; it's about improving mobile performance too.

iOS content blocking

With Mozilla's recent Firefox 42 Web browser release, a new tracking protection feature became available to Mozilla's users. Now Mozilla is extending its protections even further with the new Focus by Firefox app, which is available now in the Apple App Store as a free content blocker for iOS 9 users running the Safari Web browser.

As part of Apple's iOS 9 release, content blocking applications became available for the first time, and they have been very popular with users. However, most of the content blockers for iOS 9 users to date are for-profit commercial ventures, Nick Nguyen, vice president of product for Firefox at Mozilla, said.

"They either charge for the app, or they do things like accept payment from advertisers in order to get favorable treatment," Nguyen told eWEEK. "So we at Mozilla felt there is room for an independent and principled voice for content blocking on iOS."

Focus by Firefox uses much of the same underlying technologies that Mozilla has developed for the Firefox 42 Tracking Protection feature. Tracking Protection in Firefox restricts the ability of third-party technologies, such as ads, from tracking a user.

"What we're doing is introducing Tracking Protection for Safari users because Mozilla is here for the good of the Internet, not just Firefox users," Nguyen said.

Focus by Firefox, however, isn't just about tracking; it's about improving mobile performance too. Focus by Firefox also will be able to block Web Fonts, which are embedded fonts that are downloaded over the Web, according to Nguyen.

"We want to decouple the idea of a content blocker from an ad blocker," he said. "There are a number of reasons why users would want to block different pieces of content in order to better control their Web experience."

Mozilla's goal is not to kill ads, but rather to empower users on the mobile Web, Nguyen said.

"Charging money for an ad blocker that just kills revenue for everyone else just doesn't feel right," he said.

While Mozilla is now bringing a content blocker to Apple's Safari Web browser running on iOS 9, it doesn't have any plans to bring the same technology to Safari running on Apple's Mac OS X desktop operating system.

"We thought there was more of an acute need for iOS than for OS X," Nguyen said. "We already have Tracking Protection for Firefox that runs on OS X, and users have a variety of browser choices on OS X, where they don't really have the same choice on iOS."

On Nov. 12, Mozilla debuted Firefox for iOS, providing Apple's mobile users with another browser choice, though unfortunately, Tracking Protection doesn't work for that browser.

"We can't make Tracking Protection work for Firefox on iOS yet due to Apple's developer agreement," Nguyen said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.