As the Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown, Facebook gives away sensitive user data through its third-party app system. But the company’s reach isn’t limited to what you do within the browser. Facebook is also tracking you all over the internet, using software like cookies to learn about your browsing habits so it can sell more data about you to advertisers.
A new Firefox browser extension uses clever design to keep Facebook’s sticky fingers away from the rest of your web-browsing data. While it can’t stop Facebook from learning about you when you’re on Facebook, the extension uses a so-called “container” to prevent Facebook’s cookies and trackers from following you when you do leave the site. The technology is built on the internet freedom nonprofit Mozilla’s Multi-Account Containers extension, which enables users to create virtual walls between different parts of their online lives, each of which is indicated by color-coded browser tabs.
After installing the extension, which is only available for the time being on Firefox, you can open up a new tab and navigate to Facebook.com. The extension will log you out and delete any trackers that might be following you. Once you log in again, the tab itself will turn blue and any links you click on while inside Facebook that take you outside the platform’s ecosystem will open in a new tab that’s outside this tracking “container.” The extension is different from other privacy blockers like Ghostery and Privacy Badger, which block trackers completely. That can sometimes make it difficult to use some sites, given how integral tracking software has become. But containers are different.
“Containers don’t block any content, they just limit what data the content can access,” Jeff Griffiths, the product lead for Firefox tells Co.Design in an email. “With Facebook Containers, all Facebook content still loads, but there is a separation between the Facebook Content you interact with as an identified Facebook user and your other web activities that are often unrelated to Facebook. This way, it is harder to tie your browsing activity to your Facebook identity.”
The extension’s “container” metaphor is a clever affordance that helps explain how the tech works. Tabs in a browser might look like they’re completely distinct, but they’re easily connected using pieces of software like cookies that can associate your browsing habits with your Facebook identity. Tracking you outside of Facebook gives the company more data to share with advertisers–it’s the same mechanism that allows that pair of boots you looked at once to follow you around the internet for weeks. A container conjures up the image of a big plastic tub that can contain Facebook–a quarantine of sorts.
Mozilla’s extension gives users control over their data in a way that doesn’t involve withdrawing from Facebook entirely. Because while some might advocate for you to #deletefacebook, some people do find value in the services the site provides and don’t necessarily want to opt out entirely.
As Mozilla put it on its blog, “Rather than stop using a service you find valuable and miss out on those adorable photos of your nephew, we think you should have tools to limit what data others can collect about you.”