Mozilla Firefox 3.05 Updates User Rights

The change addresses criticism from the free and open source software community that Mozilla was asserting rights through the Firefox EULA that were incompatible with the GPL.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

December 17, 2008

3 Min Read

Mozilla on Tuesday released Firefox 3.05, a browser update that fixes several security issues and offers a few other changes, including a clearer way to communicate to users about their rights.

Of the eight security issues, three of them are rated "critical," one is rated "high," one is rated "moderate," and three are rated "low."

The critical security fixes address cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in SessionStore, a feature that reloads Web pages that were open during a previous session; XSS flaws that could allow JavaScript privilege escalation; and crashes with memory corruption.

Firefox 3.05 addresses several stability issues, too, and is now available for the Bengali, Esperanto, Galician, Hindi, and Latvian languages.

Perhaps the most interesting change in Firefox 3.05 is that it does away with the End User License Agreement (EULA) and replaces it with a "Know Your Rights" info bar that gets loaded when the browser is first installed.

The info bar text can be displayed by typing "about:rights" (without quotation marks) into the location/address bar.

The many Firefox users who never bother to read legalese won't care. But the change addresses criticism from the free open source software community that Mozilla was asserting rights through the Firefox EULA that were incompatible with those outlined in the GNU General Public License (GPL), which governs most open source software.

The issue was that while the Firefox code was covered by the GPL, Mozilla's trademarked Firefox name, related artwork, and its proprietary TalkBack crash reporter were not. This raises the possibility of legal entanglements that Mozilla's partners and users of Firefox were eager to avoid.

In September, Mitchell Baker, chairperson of Mozilla, acknowledged in a blog post that "yes, the content of the license agreement is wrong." She said Mozilla was committed to fixing both the language in question and the presentation of the information.

And now it is done.

Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox at Mozilla, said in an e-mail that the organization wanted to provide a better user experience and a clearer explanation of users' rights.

"The EULA that we used to use actually said very similar things, but the presentation was less friendly -- you had to 'accept' it to continue -- and the language wasn't easy to read or expressed in terms of what your rights were as a user," he said. "The new page uses clear language to inform users about what they are allowed to do with our software, which is pretty much anything other than infringe on our trademarks and logos. We also break out the terms and limitations of the software services (such as SafeBrowsing) that we ship with Firefox, including instructions on how users can disable these services."

Beltzner said that while the specific legal rights of users haven't been altered with this release, the new presentation makes them friendlier and easier to understand, which he characterizes as a change for the better.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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