Mozilla launches Future of Mobile Privacy project for Firefox OS

The open source champions reveal a year long project with Deutsche Telekom to address the security needs of users in emerging markets

Mozilla has revealed an ongoing scheme to provide security to users of its mobile operating system Firefox OS.  

The open source organisation has been working with mobile operator Deutsche Telekom for the past year on the Future of Mobile Privacy project, developing new features to roll out within updates of Firefox OS in the coming years.

“We have been working with our partners at Deutsche Telekom for the past year, thinking about what are the concerns of the basic user and the advanced user as it relates to mobile privacy and security,” said Alex Fowler, global privacy and public policy leader at Mozilla.

“This all began before the Edward Snowden revelations but it was good timing in that in a sense it has increased the relevance of the topic significantly.”

The project is focused on the emerging markets – the main target audience of the Firefox OS – and through user groups and customer research, Mozilla discovered while data security and government hacking was a concern, there were still other priorities within the regions.

“Those types of questions about government access to network communications wasn’t as prevalent when we first started the project,” said Fowler. “They were there but not the main thrust of the conversation. Now it is part of every conversation but it is still not the thing your first time user of a smartphone is most anxious about.”

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“What we found in countries like Brazil and those in South East Asia is that theft and loss of device is still one of the most prevalent concerns. If this is your primary mode of accessing the internet and it has all of your personal data on it, the experience becomes one of deep worry when you lose it or have it stolen.”

As a result, Firefox is rolling out remote wipe capabilities into its OS either in its next release or the consequential one, though Fowler promised it by the end of the year.

“The other thing is sharing devices between friends and family members,” he said. “One of the concerns is that if this is your primary mode of communication, with just the touch of an app you can see all their email communications, text messages, the pictures taken and that is very personal and very unique to that individual.”

“So sharing becomes a little bit of an anxiety producing experience depending on what apps you have got. Even the apps you have installed can say something to the person you are handing it to.”

In response to this, Mozilla has designed a way to lock the device and offer guest access to apps predefined by the user with a green light to allow anyone to use them. All other apps will remain behind a password protected wall until the primary user changes the settings.

While he Future of Mobile Privacy project has been running for a year, Fowler promised it would be ongoing and hoped many more people within the industry will get involved.

“What we are announcing is that this is an official Mozilla project,” he said. “All the work that Deutsche Telekom and their engineers have put into this will go into the overall open source project – none of this is proprietary so other carriers and manufacturers can bring this to their products.”

“We are also going to be calling on the privacy and security community to start dreaming up what they think are exciting features and services, and we want to prototype and make those part of future releases as well.” 

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