Firefox revives Test Pilot programme with VPN launch

Firefox sign in front of a brick building
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Mozilla has relaunched its programme for testing experimental Firefox features after shutting down the scheme earlier this year.

Months after closing the Test Pilot programme, the software company has revived this user feedback process by debuting the beta version for a new virtual private network (VPN) extension.

This Firefox Private Network extension is being tested as part of a wave of privacy-centric features Mozilla is planning to release for its Firefox browser in the coming months.

It's the first of many features earmarked to be released as part of the company's premium subscription-based version of Firefox, Mozilla has confirmed. The test will involve establishing not just the functionality of the VPN, but potential pricing models.

Users can activate the extension to browse the web through an encrypted connection and protect their data from being tracked, the company confirmed. This is especially pertinent while browsing the internet through a public Wi-Fi connection.

"We've already earmarked a couple of new products that we plan to fine-tune before their official release as part of the relaunched Test Pilot program," said vice president of product at Mozilla, Marissa Wood.

"Because of how much we learned from our users through the Test Pilot program, and our ongoing commitment to build our products and services to meet people's online needs, we're kicking off our relaunch of the Test Pilot program by beta testing our project code named Firefox Private Network."

The Test Pilot programme differs from its previous incarnation in that the products and services tested may sit outside the Firefox browser. These features will also be more polished than they have been previously, and be one step away from public release.

Test Pilot was first launched in 2016 as a means to test highly experimental features for the Firefox browser and garner user feedback to feed into the development cycle. This first started out as an addon in Firefox before it was launched as its own entity.

Mozilla then closed the programme in January in order to reassess how its experimentation and user feedback procedures would work in the future.

"First, we had a loyal group of users who provided us feedback on projects that weren't polished or ready for general consumption," Wood added.

"Based on that input we refined and revamped various features and services, and in some cases shelved projects altogether because they didn't meet the needs of our users.

"The feedback we received helped us evaluate a variety of potential Firefox features, some of which are in the Firefox browser today."

The development of a Firefox-based VPN follows the company's efforts to build out several privacy-centric features and increased rhetoric on the importance of security and privacy while browsing online.

Earlier this month, for instance, an update to the web browser meant third-party tracking cookies and cryptocurrency mining scripts would be blocked by default.

Mozilla's efforts in this space have even led a UK-based trade association for internet service providers (ISPs) to brand the company an 'internet villain' for its touted support for the DNHS over HTTPS (DoH) protocol.

"We're doing this test, just as we did tests and explorations of other models of memberships and services before, in order to determine how we best provide user value in addition to our browser offerings," a Mozilla spokesperson told IT Pro. "This beta testing will also give us a chance to explore possible pricing options.

"We were founded on the belief that the internet should be open and accessible to all. A high-performing, free and private-by-default Firefox browser will continue to be central to our core service offerings.

"We also recognize that there are consumers who want access to premium offerings, and we can serve those users too without compromising the development and reach of the existing products and services that Firefox users know and love."

Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Features Editor

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.