Building Privacy Into Telemetry

Sid Stamm

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For a while now we at Mozilla have been talking about our privacy operating principles. We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to make sure we deliver on these promises, and want to share a little bit of the backstage work we’ve done to make Firefox live up to these promises.

In the latest version of Firefox, you’ll be given a chance to enable a new feature called Telemetry. This feature measures different bits about how Firefox is performing for you and sends these usage statistics to us so we can figure out where to focus our efforts to make it even better. Here’s how it lines up with our principles:

No Surprises: we ask before enabling Telemetry, and you can turn it off whenever you want in the Firefox options dialog. We’re not gonna collect any of this stuff until you say it’s okay.

Real Choices: When you update or install Firefox, it will ask if you want to help us out, and tells you about the kinds of data we will collect. Additionally, we’ve worked through many of the privacy implications of collecting this data — and that took a little work. We wrote it down for you to see why we’re collecting the data and the risks we’ve considered in our Privacy Review wiki pages for the Telemetry feature and each thing we want to measure. You can also download the about:telemetry add-on to see everything we’re collecting from you.

Sensible Settings: the data is sent to us over a secure (HTTPS) connection to our server, and is off until users enable it.

User Control: as the data collected is not personal information and it is stored in aggregate form, we won’t be publishing any data specific to you. Our performance team will probably talk about the aggregate statistics of the whole Firefox population (averages, trends and such), but we delete the anonymous data you send us when we can no longer use it to help us make Firefox better.

It is really important for us to learn how Firefox performs for you; we have a whole lot of automated tests, but those can only guess how it will work when you’re behind the wheel. So go update or install Firefox, then say “yes” to sending us performance data! You’ll be helping us make Firefox even better in a way that puts you in control of your data, and that’s important because this is your Firefox and we want you to be in charge.

Sid Stamm
Lead Privacy Engineer

One response

  1. shobo wrote on :

    Just upgraded to FF7, entered “about:telemetry” as URL -> “This URL is invalid and cannot be loaded.” (Back-translated from german to english, so original en popup message wwording may be different.)

    Another question not covered in the article: WHEN (how often) is telemetry data gathered and transmitted (and how much is it approximately)? (Interesting while in 3G Data Roaming.)