Firefox 14 Arrives, Brings HTTPS For Google Searches

by adrianpadeanu screenshot of Mozilla Firefox 14.0.1

On 17 July, 2012,  Mozilla introduced Firefox 14 that can automatically encrypt web searches through Google. However, it seems that the new iteration of the popular web browser leaves an opened door for advertisers. This is due to a Google loophole as the encryption is not capable of preventing Google’s advertisers from reaching the things we are searching for. In addition, these can also show up as search suggestions or in the data which is being reported to websites via Google’s Webmaster Central.

Firefox 14 is using the let’s call it “secure” version of Google search which is also known as Google SSL search. What this does is it prevents anyone from finding out what the user is searching for, but at the same time Google SSL tells advertisers about what the users are searching for if these click on their ads.

If the team at Mozilla were really trying to make Firefox 14 entirely secure, they would have chosen to block what is known in the industry as “referrer” info from being sent along. Back in October, 2011, Google decided to block referrer info for non-advertisers and they have motivated this decision by saying that their objective is to protect the privacy of the user, taking into account that those terms could potentially reveal some sensitive information. The strange thing is that at the same time the data is still being sent to the advertisers and it can also be discovered when using Google’s autocomplete function.

By using HTTPS in Firefox 14, it allows providers such as Google to remove info from the referrer string. Although those who are using Google are expecting that Google knows what the users are searching for, those who use Mozilla’s Firefox may not know that these search terms are usually sent to the websites which the users visit when clicking on the links located in the search results list. Enabling HTTPS search helps websites such as Google to strip this info from the HTTP referrer string so that the user has more control when it comes down to whom he shares his interests with.

This latest incarnation of Firefox which brings additional support for search security is not appreciated by some of the website operators due to the reason that these are afraid that publishers will get more and more dependent on Google. As a consequence of the changes brought in version 14 of Mozilla’s web browser, web publisher are not able to see the search keywords which attracted those who use Firefox in their website log files. In order to obtain this type of info, the owners of websites will have to utilize Google Analytics.

Besides adding HTTPS support for Google searches, Firefox 14 comes with additional support for the Pointer Lock API which in the past was known as the Mouse Lock. This means that the new web browser should be capable of providing better game support, as well as being able to run native in full-screen mode in OS X 10.7. What Pointer Lock does is it keeps the mouse movements associated with the active game which is browser-based. Without Pointer Lock, if the user moves the pointer of the mouse past the boundary of the web browser it will change the input device focus to the underlying OS from the browser canvas.

Author: Adrian Padeanu