Privacy

Raspberry Pi is a little useful computer for learning programming and building projects. It comes with Debian Linux based modified operating system called Raspbian. It is the most widely installed OS on RPi. In a recent update, the Raspberry Pi OS installed a Microsoft apt repository on all machines running Raspberry Pi OS without the person’s or admin’s knowledge. Every time a Raspbian device is updated by having this repo, it will ping a Microsoft server. Microsoft telemetry has a bad reputation in the Linux community. Let us see why and how this matters to Linux users.
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Firefox user discovered that Mozilla Firefox is displaying ads on the home or new tab page. When you open Firefox on your desktop, an advertisement banner at the bottom page displayed. The advertisement read as follows:

For the holidays, we got you a little something just for using Firefox! Book your next hotel stay on Booking.com today and get a free $20 Amazon gift card. Happy Holidays from Firefox!

Mozilla explained that it was just an experiment. A Mozilla spokesperson told VentureBeat:

It was not a paid placement or advertisement. We are continually looking for more ways to say thanks for using Firefox.” The Booking.com snippet ran for five days and ended on schedule on December 30th.

However, many users of Firefox did not agree with Mozilla.

Firefox is now placing ads and how do I disable it?

These ads come from about:home snippet service. It is a management service that assembles and deliver content snippets to the about:home page in Firefox. Firefox user expects the best user experience and open standards from Mozilla. They do not want to see ads, and shenanigans carried out by an open source project. No wonder Firefox market share is declining every year.

Please note that we all get to see free content on the web due to sponsorship from various corporate interests. Firefox is free too. Managing a web browser is not easy. Recently Microsoft decided to throw away old code base of Edge browser and making next version of Edge browser on top of Chromium. Mozilla gets the majority of funding from search engines and other sources. Mozilla needs to pay for hosting/infrastructure and engineers salaries too. I don’t have any business solution that would solve all Mozilla funding problems, but below I discuss a few possibilities to disable tracking and other options for personal usage.

How to disable ads on Firefox

Type the following URL in Firefox: about:preferences#home
Click on the Home > scroll down and uncheck Snippets option box:

Disabling advertisement banners on Firefox’s home or new tab page

Further, I suggest that you set Home and New Tab pages to a Blank Page. Make sure all other checkboxes are unchecked too:

Configuration Firefox Home and other options

But, wait there is more

One can harden Firefox using user.js:

A user.js configuration file for Mozilla Firefox designed to harden browser settings and make it more secure. The main goals are:

  1. Limit the probabilities to track the user through web analytics.
  2. Harden the browser against known data disclosure or code execution vulnerabilities.
  3. Limit the browser from storing anything even remotely sensitive persistently.
  4. Make sure the browser doesn’t reveal too much information to shoulder surfers.
  5. Harden the browser’s encryption (cipher suites, protocols, trusted CAs).
  6. Limit possibilities to uniquely identify the browser/device using browser fingerprinting.
  7. Hopefully limit the attack surface by disabling various features.
  8. Still be usable in daily use.

Open-source alternatives to Firefox

Pale Moon is a free and open source web browser. It runs on Microsoft Windows and Linux with a strong focus on efficiency and customization.

Brave is yet another free and open-source browser. It is built by a team of privacy-focused, performance-oriented pioneers of the web.

For more info and see original Reddit thread here.

Update 02/Jan/2019: Ellen Canale, a spokesperson for Mozilla, contacted us with the following statement:

This snippet was an experiment to provide more value to Firefox users through offers provided by a partner. It was not a paid placement or advertisement. We are continually looking for more ways to say thanks for using Firefox. In a similar vein, earlier this month we offered Firefox users a free opportunity to enjoy a live concert from Phosphorescent.

In addition to adding value to Firefox users these efforts are intended to support an open ecosystem. When users see such offers no data is being shared with a partner until users have made the choice to enter a relationship. We hope that this strategy sets a positive example.

Purism is well known for Linux based laptop with Coreboot. Now they started a crowdfunding campaign today for its smartphone called Purism Librem 5. What is so special about this phone? It is 100% powered by GNU/Linux. You can run any Linux distro on it. The phone provides high security and privacy features, i.e., it does not track you. This seems like an excellent device. One that I would certainly purchase or recommend to a privacy-conscious person.
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Coreboot is a free and open source software. The project aimed at replacing the proprietary BIOS firmware and blobs. Unfortunately, Coreboot does not run on the modern laptop (except Chromebooks) due to Intel ME and other closed source technologies.

Purism vendor sells Linux preloaded on the Librem 13 and the Librem 15 laptops. Purism claims to follow a strict belief in users’ rights to privacy, security, and freedom. Untile today Librem bios was not freed. However, the coreboot port for the Librem 13 v1 is 100% done. It means you can have blob free Coreboot running on a full-fledged modern laptop. The laptop comes with Hardware Kill Switches that physically sever the circuit at the hardware level for Wireless & Bluetooth, Camera & Microphone. The specs are as follows:
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Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) version 2.0 has been released. It is a Debian-based security-focused Linux distribution, and it is designed to increase privacy and anonymity online. This release fixes many security issues, and users should upgrade as soon as possible.

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