Firefox plots a fully anonymous Internet

Firefox wants to ensure the possibility of true online anonymity for Internet users.

On Monday, Mozilla — the company behind Firefox — revealed a project aiming to guarantee freedom from online tracking and the ability to browse the Web incognito.

“We want to advance the state of the art in privacy features, with a specific focus on bringing them to more mainstream audiences,” said Denelle Dixon-Thayer, who leads Mozilla’s public policy and legal teams, in a blog post on the so-called "Polaris" privacy initiative.


The software company is working on Polaris with the Tor Project, famous for its anonymity software, and the digital rights advocate Center for Democracy & Technology.

The groups’ efforts are another development in the ongoing back-and-forth between private companies and governments over access to consumer data.

Tech firms such as Apple and Google have increased encryption and security on their email services and mobile devices in response to the government surveillance programs disclosed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

Law enforcement officials have warned that these heightened security measures could cripple legitimate criminal investigations.

Polaris would enable Tor to “work more quickly and easily” on the Firefox browser, Dixon-Thayer said. Tor allows users to surf the Internet undetected, and gives websites the ability to hide from detection.

Tor made headlines late last week when a worldwide coalition of governments shuttered roughly two dozen dark drug markets that used Tor to stay inaccessible from common Internet browsers. Seventeen people allegedly behind the sites were also arrested.

The seizures caught Tor off guard. The project's leaders were baffled at how law enforcement officials had located and seized the hidden services, and frustrated at the lack of advance notice.

“In liberal democracies, we should expect that when the time comes to prosecute some of the 17 people who have been arrested, the police would have to explain to the judge how the suspects came to be suspects," said a Tor volunteer who goes by Phobos in a Sunday blog post.

Mozilla has been a vocal opponent of NSA surveillance programs and a staunch net neutrality advocate. It’s also released a number of browser plug-ins to enhance encryption and block tracking devices.

“We want to accelerate pragmatic and user-focused advances in privacy technology for the Web, giving users more control, awareness and protection in their Web experiences,” Dixon-Thayer said.

Firefox is the third most popular Web browser, with a near 14 percent market share, according to data analytics firm Net Applications. Google Chrome claims roughly 21percent of the market, while Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominates with 58 percent.