Mozilla wants to collect sensitive data from visitors using ‘differential privacy’

Posted 22 August 2017 16:58 CET by Jan Willem Aldershoff

Mozilla plans to collect data from Firefox users so their products teams can better analyze how the browser is used. According to Mozilla’s senior software engineer Georg Fritzsche, their products teams frequently ask for sensitive data, such as which websites Firefox users visit and how features on websites perform. The developer claims the data collection should improve the user experience.

Currently Mozilla only collects data if users specifically agree to do so, but it has no possibilities to collect ‘objective data’ from users without their explicit permission. A possibility would be ‘differential privacy’, which means sensitive data is collected but anonymized in such a way that it can’t be traced back to an individual user.

Google is already using differential privacy in Chrome, with RAPPOR (how it works here), which is an open source project from the search giant.

Mozilla has researched using RAPPOR for collecting data in Firefox, and according to Fritzsche the first results were promising. Mozilla now plans to run an opt-out study to validate their implementation of RAPPOR.

In this study, that should take place next month, Mozilla will collect the usage of the start page from a  random group of Firefox users.

“This is not the type of data we have collected as opt-out in the past and is a new approach for Mozilla. As such, we are still experimenting with the  project and wanted to reach out for feedback,” Fritzsche writes.

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