Mozilla plans permission toggles in Firefox OS

Firefox OS phone owners will be able to flip app permissions on and off at will in a far-future version of the browser-based mobile operating system.

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A prototype of the Firefox OS-powered Cloud FX phone. A future version of the operating system will include app permission controls. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla promises that a future version of its Firefox OS will offer the kind of customized app permission experience that Android has yet to provide.

Firefox OS is the mobile operating system based on the Firefox browser's engine. It runs on the Firefox OS reference phone the Flame; several lower midrange devices such as the ZTE Open and the Alcatel OneTouch Fire, available in 15 countries; and the super-low-end Cloud FX in India. Instead of native code, apps are built in HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript -- the same languages used to make websites.

Firefox OS 2.1, a future version, will ship with an advanced feature setting so that the "tech savvy and paranoid privacy enthusiasts" can tweak app permissions to their liking, Mozilla security engineer Frederik Braun said in a blog post.

"The typical list in the Settings app will then show you all the permissions an app has and allows you to set them to Allow, Prompt or Deny," he wrote. Firefox OS settings allow app developers to set three levels, unlike Android's binary On or Off.

The feature will allow the phone user to set configure specific app permissions more to their liking, so that the Alarm app, for example, doesn't necessarily have access to the GPS. However, an operating system architecture means that the planned app permission toggle will work only with apps installed from the Mozilla Marketplace. Built-in apps are locked as they are. Additionally, Braun warns that changing these settings could break an app, stopping it from functioning at all.

However, the feature is far from ready, and Firefox OS users won't see it for quite a while. How long? That's not clear, since the version of the browser-powered mobile operating system that permission controls is expected to ship in -- Firefox OS 2.1 -- is only listed on the Firefox OS release schedule as having a "code complete" date, not a public availability date.

A Mozilla spokesman explained that no public availability date was mentioned because the responsibility for updating phones falls to its carrier partners.

"Our partners are responsible for testing, certification and launching of new devices as well as making OS updates to users," he said.

Currently, Firefox OS 1.4 will be followed by Firefox OS 2.0, also with an unannounced availability, and then version 2.1 will follow.

Update, August 27 at 4:45 p.m. PT: Adds statement from Mozilla.

 

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