Block Google and Facebook to improve Firefox privacy

firefoxFirefox, a browser built by the Mozilla foundation, is in my opinion the best browser on the web. It is available all major operating systems including Linux and Android. Unfortunately Firefox is not available for iOS. Firefox is “Committed to you, your privacy and an open Web” and on the Mozilla website they tell us that Firefox is:

  • Trusted: Designed to protect your privacy
  • Flexible: Designed to be redesigned
  • Fast: Faster than ever

On the Firefox privacy page Mozilla says:

We build Firefox with a mission to put you first, above all else.
We do it to keep you in control. We do it so you can browse without worry.
And we do it because no one else will. – Mozilla

I think it is widely accepted (and true) that your privacy is much at risk when you are surfing the Internet. Firefox will protect your privacy (to some extent) if you tell it to, but you do have to tell it to do so. You can do this by clicking the menu button and clicking “Preferences”. This screen has a privacy tab and I strongly recommend you to set the settings as strict as shown on the screenshot below:


Pay extra attention to the “Accept third-party cookies” and “Tell sites that I do not want to be tracked” options. Unfortunately this last feature just informs any third party of your preference, but it does not actually block the tracking. This is where AdBlock Plus comes into play.


Download Adblock Plus here. After installing you can configure the AdBlock Plus icon (red stop sign) to be present in the toolbar (or not) by clicking the menu icon, clicking “Add-ons” and then the “Extension” tab on the left and then the “Preferences” button of AdBlock Plus. On the bottom there is a list of checkboxes and one is “Show in toolbar”.


It is very convenient to have the AdBlock Plus icon in the toolbar (left from the menu icon) so that you can quickly disable it if that is needed. It may for instance happen that a site no longer shows you Facebook “Like” buttons and you are very desperate to “Like” something.


For the best experience I would disable “Show tabs on Flash and Java” and disable “Count filter hits”. In the filter preferences I have added three subscriptions and unchecked “Allow some non-intrusive advertising”, like this:


Most people install only “EasyList”, which is easy to find and mainly blocks advertisers.  I also recommend the “Adblock warning Removal List” to avoid any warnings that may appear due to the usage of AdBlock Plus. The other subscription you should have is “Fanbox’s Annoyance List” which sounds unimportant, but actually blocks all Google and Facebook tracking (and many other “annoying” things). I also use “EasyPrivacy”, which also blocks privacy threats. These subscriptions may not be available from the user interface, but this should not stop you. You can find them on the following link:

AdBlock Plus will block the loading of elements that match the rules that are defined in the subscriptions. These elements can be visible or invisible (scripts or transparent tracking pixels). This does not only improve your privacy online, but also makes websites load faster. It actually matters a lot as you can see from a quick experiment I did using Firebug. I executed a full page refresh on several websites with and without AdBlock Plus enabled. Below a graph showing the loading time of the website with AdBlock Plus enabled compared to the loading time of the website without AdBlock Plus enabled. You can see that all sites load faster with AdBlock Plus enabled (<100%), since the browser has to load less elements from the website:


This is the data I collected in my (single) run along some popular websites, which is used to draw the above graph:

           website   total   onload   total ABP   onload ABP   total   onload   12.06     6.98        5.12         4.72     42%      68%   11.35     5.72        6.84         4.28     60%      75%
       5.17     4.07        2.29         1.63     44%      40%    3.41     2.85        2.69         2.15     79%      75%   10.19     1.15        8.47         1.12     83%      97%    1.58     1.06        0.89         0.84     56%      79%
     9.48     5.45        3.09         2.17     33%      40%
     3.42     3.05        2.09         1.82     61%      60%

So the bottomline is this: by protecting your privacy better, surfing the Internet will go faster. This is a well-kept secret that I share with you “because no one else will.”

About privacy and the ethics of blocking ads

Some people argue that you should not install ad blocking software, because blogs can exist because banners bring income to the writers. Although I doubt that this is true (direct advertising and editorials pay a magnitude better and cannot be blocked), I want to focus on the opposite: websites stealing from their visitors. By using “free analytics”, “like buttons”, “JavaScript-driven ad engines” and “web-shop tracking” many, if not most, websites are sharing very sensitive (privacy related) information about their visitors with third parties (without the visitors consent). This information can be stored and used to identify and profile visitors. The bad thing is that many site owners do not even realize their behavior is unethical (and in some cases even forbidden by law). In my opinion this unethical behavior makes using blocking software ethical.


One thought on “Block Google and Facebook to improve Firefox privacy”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *