Firefox Users, Want Some Online Privacy?

Sunni's picture

It’s a fairly common trick for feuding bloggers or fora to block certain referrers—in English, what that means is that if one clicks a link from one site to the other, which is blocking traffic from it, one will not get the desired content. You’ll get something like a 403—permission denied.

One way around that is to copy–paste the link into a new browser window or tab. But that’s tedious. Firefox can be tweaked to keep all referrer information—viz., the site where one clicked on a link to get to a second site—hidden. This is a permanent workaround for referral blocking (but not IP bans). It’s also a good privacy measure in general.

To make this change in Firefox is quite simple—and it works for FF3 as well as earlier versions.

1. In the address bar, type “ about:config” and press enter.
2. If this is your first time entering the config section, in FF3 you’ll get a warning-type page. Click through it.
3. At the top of the page—which is a listing of configurable preferences and current settings—there’s a dialogue box labeled “Filter”; the cursor should appear inside that box.
4. Type (or copy from here) “network.http.sendRefererHeader”. No “enter” needed; that preference will be the only one displayed.
5. Double-click on it to get the dialogue box for changing the value. “2” is the default, which allows all referral information to be passed; “1” only allows certain types; and “0” allows none for regular (nonencrypted) web pages. Enter “0” in the field and click “OK”.

That’s all there is to it! Curious folk may notice that another preference handles referral information for secure sites. Because referral information is often necessary for those sites to operate properly, it isn’t recommended one fool with it.

Thanks

Better than the stealther add-on.. I also use Tor, especially when running my Windows VM.

Strange

I've never had this problem, and never heard of it. Just how frequent is it to make all this necessary? Curious...

Not frequent, but ...

I haven’t tried to compile any statistics regarding web sites blocking referrals from another site; but I have encountered several instances of it amongst spatting (allegedly) pro-freedom bloggers (Billy Beck and Kim du Toit being just one, some time ago) and fora.

That is much less of an issue than the overriding privacy concern some may have. Web browsers routinely provide information about where one clicked a link to land on a particular site or page; and increasingly, that information is used in an attempt to monetize behavior. While I’ll admit that it is nice to be able to see where some of the traffic to this place comes from, it wouldn’t bother me overmuch if more people started covering their tracks via customizing this preference.

It may be a small way of avoiding that uncomfortable feeling of being watched, but given the direction current trends are heading, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Ref Control

While your method will work, it's a bit of a blunt instrument, and some sites will not work well with no referrer. For greater control of what gets sent when, this extension looks promising: Ref Control.

Which ones?

I understand that many secure sites won’t work without referrer information being passed on, but what non-secure sites hiccup without it?

One of my own

Some sites do not allow images hosted on their site to be used in other sites' web pages. They replace any offending image with a "no hotlinking" graphic. Any request for an image that has no referrer will give the same result with some of these web hosts.

In the case of one web host for a site that I was designing, the images were replaced with a smile icon. These smiles were stretched to fill the space that the original graphic would have filled, including the page background. You could imagine my horror at seeing the site that I had so carefully designed covered with these ugly images. I actually ended up changing web hosts to stop the problem before the site went live.

I don't think that it's that common, but that one experience was enough for me to turn referrers on until I started trying this new addon. Anyway, I want the owner of a site to know what brought me to that particular page most of the time. It's pretty rare that I want to turn referrers off.

Also...

Some forum software will not allow you to make posts without referrer header info.