With so many people depending on their web browsers for both work and play, it has become the responsibility of browser makers to ensure their users’ safety and privacy. Over the past years, there has been a more concerted but separate effort by these developers to implement methods that focus on limiting the damage that cookies can do in this regard. There are different ways and different degrees of protection offered by browsers such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox, all of which are also trying not to break the web by crushing these cookies. Mozilla claims that it might have finally reached that utopia with Firefox’s Total Cookie Protection, which will now be enabled by default for all desktop users.
The term cookie was coined because of the way they left crumbs in your browser when you visit a website. Their original purpose was one of convenience, allowing sites to save login information and preferences so you wouldn’t have to enter them again each and every time you visited. Over the decades, however, they have mutated into these seemingly evil entities that can be and are abused to track you and your activity, allowing advertisers or even hackers to build a user profile that could eventually be traced back to you by combining it with other data.
Unfortunately, completely eradicating cookies is now an impossible task since many websites and services also rely on them to function. Replacing cookies with something else hasn’t exactly worked either, as Google can attest. Mozilla’s solution sounds simple but could actually be genius, allowing cookies to exist but only inside their own cookie jars.
Firefox previously had an Enhanced Tracking Protection feature that had one fatal flaw: it worked on a blacklist system, which meant that trackers and attackers that are not on that list would still be able to do harm. In contrast, Total Cookie Protection applies to any and all cookies, so there’s really no escaping it. At the same time, however, websites won’t suddenly stop working properly just because this feature is enabled.
What this new technology does is sandbox each website with its own cookie jar, and these websites can’t reach into other websites’ spaces and read cookies stored there. The old cookie system had a single big jar for all cookies, and websites could track you across the different websites you visit. The site’s cookies will still exist, and they will be able to perform their legitimate functions, including sending analytics back to the site owner for improving the service, at least if you give the site permission to.
The concept might sound pretty basic, but what made Mozilla dare to claim the title of the safest major desktop browser is how it is rolling out the feature. Total Cookie Protection is being turned on by default on Windows, Mac, and Linux, unlike similar features on other browsers that are opt-in. That said, this new feature is available only on Firefox for the desktop, so that protection and claim don’t extend to smartphones and tablets where a lot of people do their web browsing these days.