Firefox v44 for Android is Out…Why the Hell Aren’t You Using It?
The web browser. Even in the later-stage “appification” of the internet that we’re presently experiencing, the web browser is still the centerpiece of much of how we interact with the digital world and digital economy. Unfortunately, on mobile devices, most people are using a web browser that is incredibly insecure, and incredibly basic compared to what their desktop browser counterparts can do. Browser’s like Google’s Chrome may be the most extensible and “secure” (though not private) on your desktop or laptop, but on mobile it’s nearly the exact opposite. It doesn’t have add-ons or extensions (and Google has stated it likely never will), and it is anything but secure.
Fortunately there is a ready-made alternative to Google Chrome that has “grown-up” rather well over the past few years since its initial release: Mozilla Firefox for Android.
Firefox for Android is now up to v44, and has had a few new bells and whistles added to it. But before I get into those, I want to tell you why I think you should be using Firefox for Android in the first place.
First off, Firefox for Android allows you to use add-ons. This includes adblockers (“uBlock Origin” being my personal favorite), as well incredibly useful add-ons like “HTTPS Everywhere”, “Simple youtube and Video Converter”, “Wikipedia Panel”, “QuitNow”, and “Black background and white text”, just to name a few. The use of adblockers and apps like “HTTPS Everywhere” allow for a much more secure (and private) browsing experience on your mobile device, be it a tablet or smartphone. While other Android web browsers like the Dolphin Browser allow for add-ons/extensions, as well, the Dolphin Browser is not open source, and so your secure, private browsing experience can not be guaranteed.
Which leads to our next point about Firefox for Android. While Google has recently made Chrome for Android nearly 95% open source, there are some pieces of code that are still closed. While just something being open source is not a guarantee of it being secure, when something is not 100% open source, you have no chance of a guarantee of whether or not that app is secure or if it really even does what it says it does. And folks, we’re talking about your smartphone here, the most personal of devices with the most personal of information (pictures, etc.). It’s foolish to take any more risks than you need to. Using secure and open source apps is essential.
And while we’re talking more about that security, one of the MAJOR advantages to using Firefox for Android over other browsers is that (and this is true for the desktop version, too) Firefox uses a completely separate security certificate system than the rest of the operating system. Without getting into the complexities of this, what it means is that something that affects Android as whole doesn’t affect Firefox the browser, and vise-versa. When major security breaches on Android–like Stagefright–are reported, there’s a good chance that Firefox won’t be affected. And that’s a win for you.
The last win for the consumer in using Firefox for Android is that you’re giving Alphabet/Google just a little less information, and that means you’re getting just a little more privacy (and any extra privacy you get equates to more security by default). Not sending Google all of your data means that you have decentralized your personal information (which everything you do on your mobile device is personal information) and not put into the giant “honey pot” that is Google. Firefox makes a big deal out of their providing of actual privacy with their browser, and the fact that they’re not schlepping off your personal data or using it in other products (everything Google collects from their services is used in every part of the larger company that is Alphabet, for example), is reason enough to use something other than Chrome. And Firefox fills that bill perfectly.
Let’s get into what has been added and/or changed in Version 44 of Firefox for Android:
- Use Android print service to enable cloud printing
- Prompt user before opening Intent URIs in a Private Browsing tab
- Show search history suggestions
- Web-based Firefox Accounts page
- Added support for launching URIs with mms: protocol
- Users can now choose a homepage to display on startup instead of the Top Sites panel
- Firefox has removed support for the RC4 decipher
- Firefox will no longer trust the Equifax Secure Certificate Authority 1024-bit root certificate or the UTN – DATACorp SGC to validate secure website certificates
- Improved tabs tray on phones
Great features that allow for more customizability, and that even encroaches on some of Chrome’s feature set, which is a good thing.
Admittedly, at the Dark Android Project, I generally recommend using software that can be found in the F-Droid app store/repository, and unfortunately the newer versions of Firefox are not available there, though you can get Firefox-based browsers like Orfox in F-Droid. And in the past year, Mozilla have been adding some questionable closed-source features (which can be turned off) like Adobe DRM and the popular Pocket reader, so I have recommended going with Firefox-based options like Orfox or IceCat. But I’ve learned over the past year that most people just want the best option that exists in the Google Play Store, and if you’re only wanting that, you might as well grab the latest version of Firefox. It’s still a far better option than using Google’s Chrome or some other closed-source browser. And Version 44 just made Firefox for Android all the more viable, and all the more private and secure in comparison to the competition.
So really…why the Hell aren’t you using Firefox already?