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Last week, Mozilla said its Firefox browser would block third-party trackers for everyone by default and yesterday, Mozilla announced a new product that could give Firefox users even more privacy on the web: the Firefox Private Network, which claims to be “a secure, encrypted path to the web” — essentially, a Firefox-made VPN (though Mozilla never calls it one).
The Firefox Private Network seems like it could be useful, but it does have its limits. It’s a browser-based VPN, so it won’t mask anything you’re doing on the internet outside of Firefox — you’d need to install a dedicated VPN app if you want to protect more of your internet traffic. Mozilla recommends using Firefox Private Network if you want to have an encrypted connection while using Firefox on a public Wi-Fi network or if you just want to better hide from ad trackers.
If you want to try the Firefox Private Network, which is free, but in beta, you’ll have to be US-based, using Firefox on your desktop or laptop, and logged into your Firefox account. If you are, install the Firefox Private Network from this page, click the icon that shows up in your toolbar, and a small menu will drop down where you can switch the VPN on or off.
In a brief test, I did notice my download speed was 17 Mbps slower with the switch flipped on, but honestly couldn’t tell the difference while browsing. The Firefox Private Network did change my IP, which should hinder third-party trackers; but since it only moved my location out to a nearby suburb, sites might have still been able to serve me local ads. Also know that if you want to appear to browse from somewhere you aren’t — or just want to watch episodes of Terrace House before they air in the US — you’ll need to use another VPN service.
Mozilla says Firefox Private Network will be “free for a limited time,” suggesting it may become a paid service in the future — which isn’t exactly a surprise. Last October, Firefox showed an ad for a subscription to ProtonVPN to a small group of Firefox users, suggesting Mozilla may have been gauging interest in offering its own VPN. And Mozilla’s CEO recently said Firefox intends to offer a paid subscription service for “premium” features in October and that bandwidth for a VPN service could be one of them.
The Firefox Private Network is the first project from Firefox’s revitalized Test Pilot program. The program used to be focused on letting users try more experimental features like vertical tabs, but Mozilla says the Test Pilot program will now be focused on “new, privacy-centric products” that are “just one step shy of general public release.” Mozilla hasn’t given an indication of what might come next.