Privacy features lose their way in latest Firefox update

Mozilla backtracking on private window changes after uproar

Firefox remains the browser of choice for many, but the latest update has lost users' tabs and makes it much more apparent when they have private tabs open, missing the point of privacy.

The latest Firefox 127 appeared on June 11 with a modest list of changes – automatically reloading the browser when the OS reboots, closing duplicate tabs, and requiring more authentication to access stored passwords. A change Mozilla didn't mention in the release notes has users complaining online, though.

There used to be an option called browser.privateWindowSeparation.enabled, which ever since Firefox 106 back in October 2022 resulted in separate taskbar icons for normal and private Firefox windows. In version 127, this option has gone away, removed in this code change. Users complained on Mozilla's forums and on Reddit at the time, but it was at least possible to recombine the icons with the option in about:config – but no longer.

As you might imagine, people are not happy, although according to the official response in this complaint, it looks like the change will be reverted in Firefox 128:

We have heard all your feedback and are bringing back the "browser.privateWindowSeparation.enabled" pref as an opt in.

If you have a master password configured, the browser asks for it when it restarts. It seems that dialog box may not come to the front, and if the user misses it, their session can be lost. That's causing distress for some, and although there is a workaround, it's quite complicated.

This isn't the only private-browsing change that's upsetting users. According to this thread, users of Firefox on Apple iOS are finding that if you have both a main and private Firefox instances open, when the main one is closed, all the tabs in the private instance are closed too. The option to open in Private Browsing mode by default has gone as well.

The Reg FOSS desk has used Mozilla browsers under various names since the mid-1990s. Long ago, faced with occasional loss of saved sessions, we used the excellent Xmarks cross-browser sync extension, but that's long gone.

Even so, as we've written before, we still reckon Firefox is the power surfer's weapon of choice. The trouble is that Mozilla's management doesn't seem to know this, and we are not at all sure that its new CEO, Laura Chambers, does either. Slip-ups like this suggest to us that, as has long been the case, the Firefox developers lack a good understanding of how its remaining followers use it, and why they stick with it. ®

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