10 October 2017

Fighting Cliqz in Firefox

Mozilla recently announced that some of their German users downloading Firefox will receive a version that tracks some of their web activity, reporting it to Cliqz.com. In the wake of this development, which is pretty awful from a privacy perspective, I went spelunking into my version of FF to see if anything had been enabled already in my build.

To my horror, cliqz.com is already mentioned in a few places, despite me never installing anything related to it. If you enter about:config in the address bar and search for cliqz, a few entries will pop up:

Straight out of the gate, it looks like something from cliqz.com has been whitelisted. What is it?

The social.* preferences are related to SocialAPI Services, a sort of framework to integrate social networks into Firefox. It was introduced several years ago but very few people actually use it or know about it. If you look up the related preferences, a few more entries are present:

If you are a fan of this sort of thing, you can go to that address https://activations.cdn.mozilla.net and install some of the available providers. I have no idea whether they still work or not; among others, delicious.com has recently been sold and it's in read-only mode, so that's unlikely to be useful.

I personally disabled it all (that social.remote-install.enabled freaked me out) by double-clicking all boolean properties (turning them to false) and double-clicking then clearing out social.whitelist.

The other mentions of cliqz seem to be special-casing whitelists aimed at making an extension work around some of the recent changes in the Firefox extensibility framework. If I understand correctly, dom.ipc.cpows.allow-cpows-in-compat-addons allows Cross-Process Object Wrappers (an internal communication mechanism that should slowly be removed) to be used even if the extension is marked as compatible with the new multiprocess architecture; and extensions.legacy.exceptions exempts the listed extensions from being marked as Legacy.

In those whitelists, there is one called testpilot@cliqz.com. Test Pilot is an official Firefox add-on from Mozilla that will periodically publish some proposed additions to the browser, allowing users to enable them, test them out, give feedback and so on. I personally like it, some of the proposed features are actually pretty good (although it doesn't look like any of them ever made it to the main build); considering its complexity (an extension-installing extension) it makes sense that it might require some special privileges, and after all it's an official Mozilla feature so why not?

Well, it looks like Mozilla is using cliqz.com to gather remote info about TestPilot usage, which is very disappointing. TestPilot was marketed as an official Mozilla project, there was no mention of third parties involved. I won't disable TestPilot, but I am again very disappointed in their cavalier attitude with my usage data.

To conclude, it looks like the "synergy" between Mozilla and Cliqz was already underway before the latest announcement. It's likely that more defensive hacks will be required in the near future to keep user-tracking at bay in Firefox. As a long-time fan of Mozilla since the '90s, this development is disappointing.