The Phorm bug is spreading. The idea of collecting a user’s browsing history and flogging that data doesn’t just appeal to ISPs. The Mozilla Foundation, the people behind the Firefox browser, want some of that action too.
The Foundation is officially a tax exempt non-profit – but still manages to pay its chairperson $500,000 a year. Executives last week confirmed they are working on a project referred to internally as “Data”. This would gather anonymised data on a voluntary basis, and provide the analytical information for anyone who wanted it.
But recent history reminds us that “anonymised” data is anything but anonymous. Meanwhile, bugs in the bloated browser have blown supposedly “private” data wide open.
Mozilla claims Firefox has around 170m users, which means it has more users than the largest ISP outside China. So it’s easy to see why the temptation is there.
“There are worlds of information about how people use the web that are locked up and not currently shared,” tootles Mozilla CEO John Lilly.
But what’s a non-profit web browser doing building in a data-gathering infrastructure? It would be creepy if we discovered say Nokia putting stealth recording equipment into its handsets. But this is creepier still.
Michael Arrington, who Nick Carr described as the “Madam of the Web 2.0 brothel”, thinks it’s a great idea.
“The potential is huge. Tell them in the comments below and on Lilly’s blog how much you want this to happen,” he urged in the Washington Post.
(You can’t trust Web 2.0 evangelists with privacy, we’ve noted before. People forget that AOL’s notorious data leak was not accidental, but intentional – a gift to the hive mind. For some network utopians, the biggest regret about the scandal was that we wouldn’t see more such gifts.)
Cryptome puts it more succinctly – “Firefox Ponders Suicide“.
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