Mozilla will start hosting Tor relays as part of Polaris privacy push

Mozilla will give the Tor Project a capacity boost as part of the Firefox maker’s new strategic privacy initiative, Polaris, which it unveiled on Monday as part of its tenth anniversary celebrations.

The Polaris initiative will see [company]Mozilla[/company] work alongside partners such as the Tor Project and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) to promote online privacy, largely through the inclusion of new features in Firefox. In a Monday blog post, Mozilla said it wants to “accelerate pragmatic and user-focused advances in privacy technology for the web,” which appears to denote a focus on user-friendliness.

Polaris is kicking off with two experiments, the first of which builds on the fact that the Tor Browser – the Tor Project’s easy-to-use implementation of its anonymized surfing technology – is based on Firefox code. According to the post, by Mozilla business and legal affairs chief Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla is evaluating what the Tor Project has done in order to see how it can make Firefox more Tor-friendly.

But there’s more. The way Tor hides the connection between its users and the sites they’re visiting is by bouncing their traffic through a series of “middle” relays, then finally through an “exit” relay, which visited sites will interpret as being the source of the user’s traffic. Middle relays are legally pretty safe to run, because if someone is using Tor for something illegal, middle relays can’t be mistaken as the traffic source.

So Mozilla’s going to start hosting high-capacity middle relays, making the Tor network faster and more robust. Along with [company]Facebook[/company]’s recent decision to launch a “hidden service” for Tor users, support for the network could be on the cusp of going mainstream.

Denelle Dixon-Thayer also wrote that Mozilla is running an “in-product Polaris experiment” that will aim to create a way for users to escape tracking “without penalizing advertisers and content sites that respect a user’s preferences.” As the high-profile Do Not Track initiative ended in failure, this will be interesting to watch.

Also on Monday, Mozilla added the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo search engine as a pre-installed option for Firefox users across Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. There’s also a new Firefox feature called Forget, which gives users a simple way to clear out all tracking information covering the last five minutes, two hours or 24 hours – as opposed to going through a relatively technically-phrased list asking whether users want to clear cookies, history and so on.