Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Firefox Ping URLs

mozilla.jpgIt’s all over the internet that Mozilla has added a “ping” attribute to URLs:

I’ve been meaning to blog about a new web platform feature that we’ve added to trunk builds of Firefox. It is now possible to define a ping attribute on anchor and area tags. When a user follows a link via one of these tags, the browser will send notification pings to the specified URLs after following the link.

I’m sure this may raise some eye-brows among privacy conscious folks, but please know that this change is being considered with the utmost regard for user privacy. The point of this feature is to enable link tracking mechanisms commonly employed on the web to get out of the critical path and thereby reduce the time required for users to see the page they clicked on. Many websites will employ redirects to have all link clicks on their site first go back to them so they can know what you are doing and then redirect your browser to the site you thought you were going to. The net result is that you end up waiting for the redirect to occur before your browser even begins to load the site that you want to go to. This can have a significant impact on page load performance.

So let me get this straight: Privacy invasion was annoying not only the privacy-conscious, but everyone else too, because it sucked. Your response was not to say, sorry, gosh, that sucks, try directing people through fewer slow forwarders, but to apply a technical fix to the problem? Hello? You could also help people fill out their social security numbers on phishing sites. Some things should not be optimized. Oh, and rather than implementing the feature with default off, and/or implementing the privacy UI then the feature, you just go head and builds as is?

The inverted flag is, of course, a classic marine distress signal.

6 comments on "Firefox Ping URLs"

  • Chris Walsh says:

    I’m sure that Google doesn’t stand to benefit in any way from the existence of this “feature”, and had no role in its inclusion in Firefox by a developer whom they employ.

  • Nudecybot says:

    Nice move with the inverted flag Adam. Good point Chris. Tracking user behaviour is undoubtedly what this is about, and I have no doubt that Google is one but not the only influencer.
    My understanding is that trackbacks for blogs already exist and work sufficiently well. Not that I use them myself.

  • Nudecybot says:

    Thats not to say there isn’t a big problem with redirects which as Firefox points out…redirects get built into the application architecture and opting out is not feasible, whereas if pings were used it would be trivial to implement a mechanism for opting out of the user tracking.
    Then again I would rather have an opt-in system where an application asks me if I don’t mind having my behaviour tracked. That would come shortly after my biggest and most unrealistic desire: leave me and my clicks alone!
    This is unrealistic since marketing’s use of eyeball tracking technologies seems to be paying for a large portion of the content and apps on the web these days.

  • Adam says:

    Opting out is sometimes feasible. I use a long /etc/hosts full of mis-directs for such things, which sometimes breaks things, but not often. I deny cookies from such domains, eetc.
    As someone who provides what I hope is high quality content without ads, eyeball tracking, or anything else, I suspect there’s a correlation between ad-supported content and junk. Not always. At the same time, I’d be happy to pay Google $10 a month to have a mostly anonymous opt-out cookie on my machine.

  • sama says:

    My guess is this has something to do with combating clickfraud.

  • Adam says:

    That’s entirely possible. They’re not talking about it in those terms, though, which is at best, poor form.

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