Introducing Polaris Privacy Initiative to Accelerate User-focused Privacy Online

At Mozilla, we believe that an individuals’  privacy on the Internet cannot be treated as optional. Our Privacy Principles guide us with the design of each of our products and services.  We’ve introduced features to support our privacy focus across desktop and mobile, including: an add-on platform with Firefox Add-ons like LightBeam, Disconnect, Ghostery and Privacy Badger; the Do Not Track preference; Private and Guest Browsing; high levels of encryption with Firefox Sync; an individual approach to apps permissions; and even a new Forget button.  But we recognize we need to do better and do more.  We want to give our users the Web experience they want through features that create transparency and control.  We want our users to trust us and the Web.

In October 2014, Harris Poll conducted a global online survey* on behalf of Mozilla of more than 7,000 online adults ages 18-64. Three quarters (74%) of people feel their personal information on the Web is less private today than it was one year ago. That same figure of adults agree that Internet companies know too much about them. We think we can help with this concern.

Today, we are excited to announce a new strategic initiative at Mozilla called Polaris. Polaris is a privacy initiative built to pull together our own privacy efforts along with other privacy leaders in the industry. Polaris is designed to allow us to collaborate more effectively, more explicitly and more directly to bring more privacy features into our products. We want to accelerate pragmatic and user-focused advances in privacy technology for the Web, giving users more control, awareness and protection in their Web experiences. We want to advance the state of the art in privacy features, with a specific focus on bringing them to more mainstream audiences.

We’re joined at launch by the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT),  and the Tor Project both non-profits, who will support and advise Polaris projects and help us align them with policy goals. We believe that the support and assistance from each of these groups is crucial. “CDT looks forward to working with Mozilla on the Polaris program and advising on issues like combating Internet censorship and protecting online anonymity, which are vital to promoting free expression online.” said Justin Brookman of CDT.  Not only will these collaborations hold us accountable to staying true to our goal of getting new and innovative privacy features into our general release products, the diversity of understanding, focus and opinion will improve what we bring to the mainstream.

Today we’re announcing two experiments under the Polaris banner, focused on anti-censorship technology, anonymity, and cross-site tracking protection. First, Mozilla engineers are evaluating the Tor Project’s changes to Firefox, to determine if changes to our own platform codebase can enable Tor to work more quickly and easily. Mozilla will also soon begin hosting our own high-capacity Tor middle relays to make Tor’s network more responsive and allow Tor to serve more users.  “The Tor Project is excited to join Mozilla as a launch partner in the Polaris program. We look forward to working together on privacy
technology, open standards, and future product collaborations,” said  Andrew Lewman of the Tor Project.

The second experiment (which is our first in-product Polaris experiment) seeks to understand how we can offer a feature that protects those users that want to be free from invasive tracking without penalizing advertisers and content sites that respect a user’s preferences. We’re currently testing this privacy tool in our “Nightly” channel. The experiment is promising, but it’s not a full-fledged feature yet.  We’ll test and refine the user experience and platform behavior over the coming months and collect feedback from all sides before this is added to our general release versions.

We recognize that privacy is not just a functionality on your computer or a setting you can turn on or off, and we’re excited to see what we can do to advance privacy online with Polaris. To learn more or to join us, visit the wiki.

*Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within Great Britain, France, Spain, German, Brazil, and India between October 22nd and 29th, 2014 among 7,077 adults (aged 18-64) by Harris Poll on behalf of Mozilla via its Global Omnibus product. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact press@mozilla.com