Private mode back in Firefox 3.1 plans

Following Chrome’s release, Mozilla has felt the pressure of the competition and put private mode back in Firefox 3.1’s feature list in second level priority, and on track for Beta 1, the next development release (around mid-October).

In private mode, all user activity involving data such as searches, visited web pages, downloads, cached pages, credentials passed to restricted sites, etc. is discarded once the user returns to normal mode. Despite being infamously well known as “porn mode” there are many other valid use cases. As stated in Mozilla Wiki:

For instance, users may wish to begin a private browsing session to research a medical condition, or plan a surprise vacation or birthday party for a loved one. Use cases will range from users cheating on their spouse, to users buying engagement rings. Given the breadth of our user base, specific use cases are likely to be extremely varied.

With Chrome’s InCognito and Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2’s InPrivate, introduced in the last couple of weeks, lacking a private mode option by targeted year’s end release, would put Firefox in one obvious disadvantage.

Safari added a private mode with version 2, about three years ago.

“Recent development with Chrome will likely make finally getting private browsing mode shipped a priority for 3.1.”, commented Mozilla’s Alex Faaborg shortly after Chrome’s release in the tracking bug.

According to Firefox’s Private Mode specifications, the implementation will attempt to do as much in-memory data storage as possible to provide the most reliable purge. Authenticated sessions will be lost when entering or exiting private mode.

Additional interfaces will be provided for extension developers so they can tweak their extensions to honor the private mode.

There’s still no definition on what the UI will be, but at least one important requirement is that it shouldn’t be evident for people other than the user that he is in private mode. Chrome for example changes the color and even adds a cute but tell-tale spy image.

I would personally prefer a more discrete but evident (for the user) indicator similar to IE8’s (shown below).

There are already experimental builds that include the necessary back end, mainly developed by Ehsan Akhgari, so it shouldn’t be long before it lands in the nightly builds.

There’s also no word if it will have some fancy name like Chrome’s InCognito or IE’s InPrivate.

With Firefox implementation, private browsing will become a standard feature for browsers just as tabbed browsing, antiphishing and antimalware protection, web feeds handling, secure connections notifications, the search bar, and others we’ve seen in the last few years. Let’s hope Browser Wars II lasts much longer than the first one!

50 thoughts on “Private mode back in Firefox 3.1 plans”

  1. nice article! but in the last paragraph, you forgot that Opera still doesn’t have a private browsing mode…

    1. Thanks David, leandro.

      In fact, the point is that the bar will be set in “having it” and it will no longer be a selling feature but one that users will just come to expect. I’m pretty sure the Opera guys are at some stage of its development right now.

  2. Does it need a fancy name? How about something easy to understand like the suggested InSecret…

    I also want to note that Portable Firefox (http://portableapps.com) is another great way to keep your files secret, as no files are written to the hard drive (including the registry keys), but it’s Windows only. Sorry Mac & Linux fans;

  3. I feel that this feature is dishonest at heart and Mozilla should take the moral stance and not to include it.

    No 1 many households have children/teenagers using computers these days and this gives them direct access to anything inappropriate without their parents knowledge and no way to check.

    No 2 If I wanted to organise a romantic weekend or a present without my wife’s knowledge I would just manually delete the history items when I am finished, if she goes looking any further than that then I know she doesn’t trust me and we have a problem in our relationship.

    People should just admit that they want to look at porn without other people knowing there really isn’t a legitimate excuse.

    I am very disappointed about this one.

    1. Moral and what is considered “inappropriate” is a subjective thing and is nothing that should affect the development of the browser in cases such as these.

      Though, I do agree with you that people should just admit that they look at porn… especially considering that everyone does it anyway.

    2. Oh sure, just admit you look at porn. Because AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLL wives are understanding, right? My “legitimate excuse” for demanding browsing privacy is that looking at porn harms no one, does not constitute “cheating” on my wife, but would nonetheless result in marital misery if discovered. You people need to stop applying YOUR worldview and reality on others.

      As far as children using the computer, that’s a terrible point. You should monitor your kids. It’s that simple. You can do it visually, use a monitoring program, or both.

      Kids who are too young to know how to delete their history are too young for you to leave alone on the computer in the first place. Kids who are old enough to know how to delete their own history will do so and therefore effect their own “privacy mode”.

      So, what were you upset about again, Mr. Brown?

  4. Well, it’s an OK feature, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary to implement in the browser itself. At least not when you have the Stealther add-on that does exactly this.

    1. Browsers should not rely on add-ons for important features. (Mozilla just decided that this was an important feature.) Extensions are a huge pain when new browser releases come out (compatibility), or when the developer decides to abandon the project. I don’t want to have to rely on yet another extension.

  5. Nils, strange or not there are people who doesnt know what is extension. Its much easier to discover the browser features instead to browse the addons site and try every extension.

  6. david brown, you’re an idiot. i’m sixteen, if i want to look at “inappropriate material” without people watching then i god damn will, don’t you try to impose your morals on other people.

    besides, i’ve had cases where I suspected that someone was watching my computer (i.e. a hacker or something), and obviously i’ll want to be making google searches as carefullly as i can

    anyway firefox, epic win, gg

  7. I don’t know why everyone automatically assumes this feature would only be used for “secret” things and porn on your computer. Yes, those will be uses, but this is also a much needed security feature when using someone _else’s_ computer. With a private browsing mode I don’t have to worry about leaving any private information anywhere on a public computer. The added benefit is that unlike clearing the history manually a private browsing mode selectively keeps certain pages from being logged, and thus if you’re using a friend’s computer you can leave their history in tact without adding your own to theirs.

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