My thoughts on Firefox changing Referer policy

You may think that there is a spelling error in the title, but that it the correct way to write it. If you wish to learn why then you can read HTTPWTF.

If you use Firefox, and let’s face it not many people do (W3Counter estimates Firefox is only used by 4.5% of people) there is a change coming in Firefox 87. It won’t matter if you are using it, but it matters in terms of privacy and for website owners who have analytics.

What is that change? In non-technical terms, it slightly changes how websites know what website you came from. The new “policy” is that the website will only know you’ve come from example.com, it won’t know you’ve came from example.com/blog/example. If you are technical then you may want to read Mozilla’s security blog which covers this in greater detail. This is both good and bad and there is a major reason for this change.

The major reason for this change is because Chrome has had it since version 85 which came out in August 2020 and Firefox is now keeping up with the “standard”.

This is good for privacy, because then a website analytics can’t spell out exactly what the reader what previously doing.

However it’s not so good for website owners because now their analytics are going to be missing something. They won’t be able to tell on what page their website was linked on. They don’t get to know what content you just read so they can make something similar. Once this goes into effect, analytics are still going to be showing information but they are going to be missing that crucial piece that could be something that some companies rely on.

There is some hope, if you use Firefox you can change this setting. It’s not something the average Firefox user may do but it’s available for those who want to change it. Privacy International has a guide on how to change it and MDN Web Docs provides details on what the number means.

While this change isn’t one that I, as a website owner like. As a privacy advocate, I agree with this change.

Ru Singh inspired me to write this post and you can read her thoughts on her blog.

This is post number 64 as part of 100 Days To Offload.



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