Firefox now sends more data than you might think to Mozilla. To power Firefox Suggest, Firefox sends the keystrokes you type into your address bar, your location information, and more to Mozilla’s servers. Here’s exactly what Firefox is sharing and how to control it.
Update, 10/12/21 11:49 am Eastern: As of Firefox 93’s release, Mozilla’s documentation stated that Firefox would be sending queries to Mozilla’s servers when Firefox Suggest’s contextual suggestions were enabled, as explained below. However, it appears that Mozilla did not properly explain how this feature worked.
Mozilla has since posted an update explaining that keystrokes (in other words, queries sent as you type) will not be sent to Mozilla with the default settings and that these “smarter suggestions” are instead an opt-in experience.
In other words, with Firefox 93’s default settings, Firefox will show you suggestions and ads—but it will source them from a local offline database in Firefox itself rather than sending your queries to Mozilla’s servers.
How Firefox Suggest Works
This change was made as part of the introduction of Firefox Suggest in Firefox 93, released on October 5, 2021. As part of Firefox Suggest, Firefox is getting ads in your search bar—but that’s not the only thing that will be news to longtime Firefox users.
According to Mozilla, “Firefox Suggest acts as a trustworthy guide to the better web, surfacing relevant information and sites to help people accomplish their goals.”
In reality, what that means is, when you start typing in your address bar, you won’t just see the standard search suggestions from Google or your current search default engine. You’ll also see “Firefox Suggest” results pointing to web pages. Some of them are sponsored ads, but you can disable the ads.
What Data Is Firefox Sending to Mozilla?
Firefox Suggest is on by default. Mozilla’s blog post on the subject says Firefox Suggest is an “opt-in experience,” which was the case in September 2021—but it’s now enabled by default in Firefox 93.
However, as of Firefox 93’s release in October 2021, Firefox Suggest is only enabled in the USA—for now.
It’s worth noting that, for many years, Firefox and other web browsers have had search suggestions in their address bar. So, when you start typing “win” in your address bar, you may see suggestions for “Windows 11” and “Window repair.” This is accomplished by sending keystrokes to your default search engine as you type in the search bar, as Mozilla’s support site explains.
Unfortunately, all major browsers now use a combined address and search bar. So, if you’re typing in the address of a sensitive website to go directly there, your keystrokes as you type will be sent to your default search engine and your search engine may be able to determine the website address you’re typing in manually.
Firefox Suggest is just more of that. In addition to sending your keystrokes to Google or whatever your default search engine is, Firefox will also send them to Mozilla. Both your search engine of choice and Mozilla will return suggestions.
Mozilla is also providing contextual suggestions, for which it needs more data, including the city you’re located in and whether you’re clicking its suggestions.
To deliver contextual suggestions, Firefox will need to send Mozilla new data, specifically, what you type into the search bar, city-level location data to know what’s nearby and relevant, as well as whether you click on a suggestion and which suggestion you click on.
How to Disable Firefox Suggest
You can disable Firefox’s suggested results, if you like. This will stop Mozilla from collecting the data you type in your search bar, and it will also disable the suggested results and ads.
To do so, open Firefox and click menu > Settings. Select “Privacy & Security” in the left pane, and scroll down to “Address Bar — Firefox Suggest.” Disable “Contextual suggestions” and “Include occasional sponsored suggestions” to stop Firefox from sending data to Mozilla.
Tip: To stop Firefox from sending your keystrokes to your default search engine (Google or whatever else it is) as you type in your address bar, click “Change preferences for search engine suggestions” here and uncheck the “Provide search suggestions” option, too.
Mozilla Promises Privacy
It’s worth noting that Mozilla promises not to misuse your data:
….we will collect only the data that we need to operate, update and improve the functionality of Firefox Suggest and the overall user experience based on our Lean Data and Data Privacy Principles. We will also continue to be transparent about our data and data collection practices as we develop this new feature.
That all sounds great, but then, if Mozilla were truly as transparent as possible about its data collection practices, would you be learning about Firefox Suggest from an article like this one instead of seeing a clear message in Firefox itself?