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January 17, 2019
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Firefox Focus adds support for enhanced tracking protection and Google’s Safe Browsing service

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Firefox Focus for Android and iOS is Mozilla’s privacy-centric mobile browser. Today, the organization stepped up this promise of keeping its users’ data private by adding to the browser a few new features that expand on this by adding a new privacy feature, as well as a few other new tools.

The main new addition here is support for Enhanced Tracking Protection. This feature first launched in Firefox for the desktop. It allows you to block cookies and trackers with a bit more granularity than was previously possible. Until now, Focus blocked all cookies by default. Now, however, you can choose to either continue doing that — but with the risk of sites breaking every now and then — or opt to allow third-party cookies or only third-party tracking cookies. Mozilla uses Disconnect’s Tracking Protection list to power this feature.

“This enables you to allow cookies if they contribute to the user experience for a website while still preventing trackers from being able to track you across multiple sites, offering you the same products over and over again and recording your online behavior,” Mozilla explains.

Mozilla also today announced that Firefox Focus now checks all URLs against Google’s Safe Browsing service to ensure that users don’t click on known phishing links or open other fraudulent sites. While using a Google tool may seem a bit odd, given that Firefox and Chrome are competitors, it’s worth noting virtually every browser makes use of Safe Browsing (and that Mozilla pulls in a lot of revenue from its search engine deal with Google).

In addition, iOS users who opt for Firefox Focus will now be able to get search suggestions, too, just like their friends on Android . There’s a privacy trade-off here, though, as everything you’re typing is sent directly to the likes of Google for offering you those suggestions. Because the focus of this browser is privacy, the feature is turned off by default, though.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft Edge goes Chromium (and macOS)

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The rumors were true: Microsoft Edge is moving to the open-source Chromium platform, the same platform that powers Google’s Chrome browser. And once that is done, Microsoft is bringing Edge to macOS, too. In addition, Microsoft is decoupling Edge from the Windows update process to offer a faster update cadence — and with that, it’ll bring the new Edge to Windows 7 and 8 users, too.

It’ll be a while before any of this happens, though. There’s no code to test today and the first previews are still months away. But at some point in 2019, Microsoft’s EdgeHTML and Chakra will go away and Blink and V8 will take its place. The company expects to release a first developer preview early next year.

Obviously, there is a lot to unpack here. What’s clear, though, is that Microsoft is acknowledging that Chrome and Chromium are the de facto standard today, both for users and for developers.

Over the years, especially after Microsoft left the Internet Explorer brand behind, Edge had, for the most part, become a perfectly usable browser, but Microsoft acknowledges that there were always compatibility issues. While it was investing heavily in fixing those, what we’re hearing from Microsoft is a very pragmatic message: it simply wasn’t worth the investment in engineering resources anymore. What Microsoft had to do, after all, was reverse engineer its way around problems on certain sites.

In part, that’s because Edge never quite gained the market share where developers cared enough to test their code on the platform. And with the web as big as it is, the long tail of incompatible sites remains massive.

Because many web developers work on Macs, where they don’t have access to Edge, testing for it became even more of an afterthought. Hence Microsoft’s efforts to bring Edge to the Mac, 15 years after it abandoned Internet Explorer for Mac. The company doesn’t expect that Edge on Mac will gain any significant market share, but it believes that having it available on every platform will mean that more developers will test their web apps with Edge, too.

Microsoft also admits that it didn’t help that Edge only worked on Windows 10 — and that Edge updates were bound to Windows updates. I was never quite sure why that was the case, but as Microsoft will now happily acknowledge, that meant that millions of users on older Windows versions were left behind, and even those on Windows 10 often didn’t get the latest, most compatible version of Edge because their companies remained a few updates behind.

For better or worse, Chrome has become the default and Microsoft is going with the flow. The company could have opted to open source EdgeHTML and its JavaScript engine. That option was on the table, but in the end, it opted not to. The company says that’s due to the fact that the current version of Edge has so many hooks into Windows 10 that it simply wouldn’t make much sense to do this if Microsoft wants to take the new Edge to Windows 7 and the Mac. To be fair, this probably would’ve been a fool’s errand anyway, since it’s hard to imagine that an open-source community around Edge would’ve made much of a difference in solving the practical problems anyway.

With this move, Microsoft also plans to increase its involvement in the Chromium community. That means it’ll bring to Chromium some of the work it did to make Edge work really well with touchscreens, for example. But also, as previously reported, the company now publicly notes that it is working with Google and Qualcomm to bring a native implementation of the Chrome browser to Windows 10 on ARM, making it snappier and more battery friendly than the current version that heavily relies on emulation.

Microsoft hopes that if it can make the compatibility issues a thing of the past, users will still gravitate to its browser because of what differentiates it. Maybe that’s its Cortana integration or new integrations with Windows and Office. Or maybe those are new consumer services or, for the enterprise users, specific features that make the lives of IT managers a bit easier.

When the rumors of this change first appeared a few days ago, a number of pundits argued that this isn’t great for the web because it gives even more power over web standards to the Chromium project.

I share some of those concerns, but Microsoft is making a very pragmatic argument for this move and notes that Edge’s small market share didn’t allow it to make a dent in this process anyway. By becoming more active in the Chromium community, it’ll have more of a voice — or so it hopes — and be able to advocate for web standards and bring its own innovations to Chromium.

You’re browser is probably the most complex piece of software running on your computer right now. That means switching out engines is anything but trivial. The company isn’t detailing what its development process will look like and how it’ll go about this, but we’re being told that the company is looking at which parts of the Edge experience to keep and then will work with the Chromium community to bring those to the Chromium engine, too.

Microsoft stresses that it isn’t giving up on Edge, by the way. The browser isn’t going anywhere. If you’re a happy Edge user today, chances are this move will make you an even happier Edge user in the long run. If you aren’t, Microsoft hopes you’ll give it a fresh look when the new Chromium-based version launches. It’s on Microsoft now to build a browser that is differentiated enough to get people to give it another shot.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Chrome adds new security features to stop mobile subscription scams

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Google today announced that Chrome will soon get a new feature that aims to stop mobile subscription scams. Those are the kind of sites that ask you for your phone number and that then, unbeknownst to you, sign you up for a mobile subscription that’s billed through your carrier. Starting with the launch of Chrome 71 in December, Google will pop up a prominent warning when a site doesn’t make it clear that users are signing up for a mobile subscription.

To make sure that developers who are legitimately using this flow to offer users subscription don’t get caught up in this new system, Google also published a set of best practices for mobile billing today. Generally, developers are expected to make their billing information visible and obvious to users, display the actual cost and have a simple and straightforward fee structure.

If that information is not available, Google will through up a prominent full-page warning, but users can always opt to proceed. Before throwing up the warning page, Google will notify webmasters in the Search Console when it detects a potential scam (there’s always a chance for false positives, after all).

This new feature will be available on both mobile and desktop, as well as in Android’s WebView.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google wants to make Chrome extensions safer

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Google today announced a number of upcoming changes to how Chrome will handle extensions that request a lot of permissions, as well as new requirements for developers who want to publish their extensions in the Chrome Web Store.

It’s no secret that, no matter which browser you use, extensions are one of the main vectors that malicious developers use to gain access to your data. Over the years, Google has improved its ability to automatically detect malicious extensions before they ever make it into the store. The company has also made quite a few changes to the browser itself to ensure that extensions can wreak havoc once they have been installed. Now, it’s taking this a bit further.

Starting with Chrome 70, users can restrict host access to their own custom list of sites. That’s important because, by default, most extensions can see and manipulate any website you go to. Whitelists are hard to maintain, though, so users can also opt to only provide an extension with access to the current page after a click.

“While host permissions have enabled thousands of powerful and creative extension use cases, they have also led to a broad range of misuse – both malicious and unintentional – because they allow extensions to automatically read and change data on websites,” Google explains in today’s announcement.

Any extensions that request what Google calls “powerful permissions” will now also be subject to a more extensive review process. In addition, Google will also take a closer look at extensions that use remotely hosted code (since that code could be changed at any time, after all).

As far as permissions go, Google also notes that in 2019, it’ll introduce new mechanisms and more narrowly scoped APIs that will reduce the need for broader permissions and that will give users more control over the access that they grant to their extensions. Starting in 2019, Google will also require two-factor authentication for access to Chrome Web Store developer accounts to make sure that a malicious actor can’t take over a developer’s account and publish a hacked extensions.

While that change is still a few months out, starting today, developers are no longer allowed to publish extensions with obfuscated code. By default, obfuscated code isn’t a bad thing. Developers often use this method of scrambling their JavaScript source code to hide their code, which would otherwise be in clear text and easy to steal. That also makes it very hard to figure out what exactly the code does and 70 percent of malicious extensions and those that try to circumvent Google’s policies use obfuscated code. Google will remove all existing extensions with obfuscated code in 90 days.

it’s worth noting that developers will still be allowed to minify their code to remove whitespace, comments and newlines, for example.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google Chrome could soon let you mute annoyingly noisy websites

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Websites that auto-load videos with sound may soon be a thing of the past — or, at least, your days of having to put up with them could be.

That’s because Google is testing a new option that lets users permanently mute a website within the Chrome Browser.

Noisy websites have long been a pain. Chrome introduced an indicator to flag guilty tabs a couple of years ago — it had long been needed — and now the development team is testing this mute option inside the latest experimental ‘Canary’ version, according to Google developer François BeaufortYou can follow this link if you want to try it out.

It looks very easy to use. Just click on the security status that’s located to the left of the website address, and then the option to mute the site sits within the list of its details and permissions. The mute itself lasts until the setting is changed, which effectively makes it a sound ban.

While the feature would only appear in Chrome, assuming that it graduates from this test rollout, it could spur other browser companies to follow suit.

This kind of option for users could discourage publishers from autoplaying videos with sound for fear that their website will be muted forever. That would be mean one less annoying thing on the internet and a win for us all.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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