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Google Enables FireFox Prefetching

     
2:41 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Today Google announced on their blog (it won't let me post a link, search for it) that they now offer "Enhanced searching with Firefox". This boils down to instructing Firefox to "prefetch" [google.com] search results, meaning that every time I search on Google I will be visiting all sorts of web sites that I do not want to visit. Getting all sorts of cookies that I don't want to get. Does anyone else feel that this is a huge violation of online privacy? Or am I just paranoid? :)

-gps

10:32 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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i have been looking for confirmation either way too, but so far nothing.

any members know for sure?

I have run a few tests, and cookies are set and stored during the prefetch.

10:40 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Brett brings up an interesting tangent. Could prefetch be used for DDoS attacks?

Couldn't Google achieve the same effect for IE and other browsers using a hidden iframe? (Not that I'm asking them to do this)

10:47 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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From reading the Link Prefetching FAQ [mozilla.org]:

If a users does click on a link to a prefetched document, while the prefetch is still in progress, the document will be requested again. That screws your logs even more.

What happens if I click on a link while something is being prefetched?
When the user clicks on a link, or initiates any kind of page load, link prefetching will stop and any prefetch hints will be discarded. If a prefetched document is partially downloaded, then the partial document will still be stored in the cache provided the server sent an "Accept-Ranges: bytes" response header. This header is typically generated by webservers when serving up static content. When the user visits a prefetched document for real, the remaining portion of the document will be fetched using a HTTP byte-range request.

The na´vetÚ behind the next paragraph is even more revolting.

Are there any restrictions on what is prefetched?
Yes, only http:// URLs can be prefetched (https:// URLs are never prefetched for security reasons). Other protocols (such as FTP) do not provide rich enough support for client side caching. In addition to this restriction, URLs with a query string are not prefetched. This is done because such URLs often result in documents that cannot be reused out of the browser's cache, so prefetching them often has little benefit. We found that some existing sites utilize the <link rel="next"> tag with URLs containing query strings to reference the next document in a series of documents. Bugzilla is an example of such a site that does this, and it turns out that the Bugzilla bug reports are not cachable, so prefetching these URLs would nearly double the load on poor Bugzilla! It's easy to imagine other sites being designed like Bugzilla, so we explicitly do not prefetch URLs with query strings. (It might make sense to allow prefetching of these documents when the rel=prefetchrelation type is specified, since this should not appear in any existing content.) There are no other restrictions on the URLs that are prefetched.

Every dynamically generated page has a query string in its URL. Yeah, sure!

Brett, I knew the OR was there for a purpose ;-) Looking at my Ethereal dumps I realized that it isn't active yet on WebmasterWorld - at least I didn't get a 404 for the prefetch. I beg your pardon for screwing up your logs by using Firefox.

10:48 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I have run a few tests, and cookies are set and stored during the prefetch.

Thanks

I since searched for intel and the SERP resulted in a request from intel .com to set a cookie.

IMO google should think again, this feature wasn't designed for them and they should leave it alone.

The feature itself could be useful but two things i think should be addressed by Mozilla:

quotes taken from: [mozilla.org...]


There is no same-origin restriction for link prefetching. Limiting prefetching to only URLs from the the same server would not offer any increased browser security.

IMHO limiting the prefetch to the SAME domain wouldn't have any effect on its usefulness either.

and the disabling procedure


there is a hidden preference that you can set to disable link prefetching. Add this line to your prefs.js file located in your Mozilla profile directory

but this is a start


By popular demand, Mozilla 1.3+ includes a preference in the UI to disable prefetching. See Preferences->Advanced->Cache to disable prefetching

just my thoughts

Brett, trust you lol

<edit>added quote source</edit>

[edited by: diddlydazz at 10:53 pm (utc) on Mar. 31, 2005]

10:52 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Why isn't the "opt out" option available on the Firefox - Google preferences page? How is Joe Blow supposed to find out about these things?

Its an invasive feature and I want to opt out! Google is going too far with all this stuff. I don't like it at all!

I have many friends I like a lot. I have business associates I like a lot too. I have a long term admiration for Google ... but that doesn't mean I will allow any of the above to invade my computer without my knowledge or consent!

Out damn spot ... out I say!

<Added>

By popular demand, Mozilla 1.3+ includes a preference in the UI to disable prefetching. See Preferences->Advanced->Cache to disable prefetching

I have not been able to find this option anywhere. Is it different for Mac users?

11:09 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Yes, I can also confirm that cookies are set. Using the "Ask for each cookie" setting in Mozilla (Edit->Preferences->Privacy and Security->Cookies), it's weird: searching "intel" on www.google.com for produces a "confirm setting cookie" pop-up dialog for a cookie from www.intel.com . (If I didn't know about prefetch I would assume some sort of malware infection or XSS nastiness...).

Some other testing confirms that only the HTML page is fetched; with static pages, the prefetch request fetches the whole page, clicking on the link produces a 304 response.

Sending a 301 or 302 redirect from the prefetched location doesn't seem to have any effect on the original page.

JavaScript is not executed.

11:12 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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By popular demand, Mozilla 1.3+ includes a preference in the UI to disable prefetching. See Preferences->Advanced->Cache to disable prefetching

I have not been able to find this option anywhere. Is it different for Mac users?

It's available in Mozilla but not Firefox (at least not anywhere I can find it).

11:43 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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please don't use firefox, or any other advanced browser...it violates yr privary...stick to ie and be SAFE
11:47 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Brett wrote:

"One wonders what would happen if you prefetched your favorite Google search from your page? hmmm "

I suspect that if enough webmasters did so (i.e. in the footer of their pages) it would cause unwanted traffic to Google's servers that they would be less likely to monetize.

That is, it would do pretty much the same thing that Google is doing to other webmasters but on a different scale.

11:53 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Right then ... Firefox is gone and I'm back to using Safari! Too bad, I was just starting to like Firefox. :(
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