Here is a bit of a surprise announcement: Firefox-maker Mozilla today announced the launch of Focus by Firefox, a content blocker for Safari on iOS 9 that’s based on the Disconnect blocklist. Unlike other content blockers that almost solely focus on blocking ads, Focus for Firefox is all about blocking the kind of ad, analytics and social media trackers that now follow us around the mobile web.
This is the same tracking protection service Mozilla uses to power the new content blocker in Firefox’s private browsing mode.
Content blockers themselves aren’t exactly new, but since Apple brought them to Safari on iOS, the discussion around them has become more heated.
Almost by default, content blockers operate in a murky ethical area. Nobody loves online ads and getting tracked and profiled online, but it’s still how most online publishers monetize the “free” content you read. While Focus by Firefox doesn’t focus on ads, my experience with using Firefox’s tracking protection on the desktop is that it does block a large number of ads, too.
Mozilla argues that too many users today “have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives” — and that loss of trust has negatively impacted the web ecosystem. Earlier this year, the organization published a set of principles for content blocking. These include the idea that blocking software shouldn’t just block ads but also address performance, security, and privacy. But Mozilla also argues that blockers shouldn’t discriminate between different kinds of content and publishers by default and that the software needs to be transparent about what’s going on. The Disconnect list Mozilla decided to use is published under the General Public License.
While Mozilla offers its own Firefox for iOS browser, too, you won’t find Focus support for it anytime soon. Apple doesn’t allow content blockers for third-party tools.
It also doesn’t look like Mozilla will be launching a version of Focus for Android. Firefox for Android features the Private Browsing mode, so you can already get most of what this new tool offers on Google’s platform, too.