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Firefox gets new knobs so you can fine-tune your privacy

Also in Firefox 65: support for AV1 video and a task manager to find which websites are sucking up your memory.

Mozilla Firefox sticker

A Mozilla Firefox sticker

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla has released a new version of Firefox that lets you strike a better balance between maintaining privacy and breaking websites.

Firefox 65 updates its controls for how the web browser manages content like tracker software and cookies -- small text files a website can store on your computer that are handy for things like remembering what's in your e-commerce shopping cart, but also for letting advertisers record what you're doing online.

Firefox now has three options to fine-tune its privacy setting: standard, strict and custom. Standard blocks tracking but only in private tabs, though later it'll block third-party trackers in ordinary websites, too. Strict blocks tracking in all windows, but it may break some websites. Custom lets you pick specific controls for blocking cookies and trackers.

You get to the controls by clicking the "i" icon in a website's address bar. That'll also let you see just what trackers are there on a particular website.

Firefox 65 gets new privacy controls: standard, strict and custom.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The moves are part of a crackdown among browser makers trying to stick up for users after years of increasingly intrusive behavior by advertisers and website publishers. Privacy protection is a growing concern, though, as problems like data breaches and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal reveal just how little control we have over our personal data.

Mozilla has long pushed for better online privacy, but in some ways it's scrambling to catch up to rivals. Apple's Safari already blocks third-party cookies by default, and Brave, from the startup led by Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich, goes even farther.

More than a year ago, Mozilla released a major overhaul of its browser called Firefox Quantum, designed to dramatically speed up browsing. So far, though, there's not much evidence the new version has dented the dominance of Google's Chrome, now 10 years old and accounting for 62 percent of browser usage, according to analytics firm StatCounter.

Other features in Firefox 65 include:

  • Support for the new AV1 video compression technology Mozilla helped develop along with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco and others. AV1 is royalty-free and has gained traction in part because of the technical and legal difficulties of licensing patents used by its main competitor, HEVC.
  • Support for Google's WebP image format, which is useful for shrinking some files more than is possible with its main alternatives, JPEG and PNG, so websites load faster and don't use as much network capacity. Firefox engineers resisted WebP for years but had a change of heart. In the longer run, Mozilla and allies like Google and Netflix hope a new image format based on AV1 will improve compression more and add new features like support for live photos.
  • Support for Apple's Handoff technology so that, when you move from a Mac to an iPhone or iPad, you can bring along the websites you were browsing. Handoff works with both Firefox and Safari on iOS, Mozilla said.
  • A new Firefox task manager, similar to the one Google builds into Chrome, that lets you see how much memory or energy different websites and browser extensions are consuming.

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