Why it matters: Mozilla is reviving its Test Pilot program and bringing with it a beta version of its Private Network extension. While it functions similarly to a VPN, Mozilla wants to appeal to privacy advocates rather than Netflix subscribers.
Mozilla's Test Pilot program allowed users to try new Firefox features without having to install a development version of the browser, like the Canary build for Edge and Chrome. The company closed Test Pilot back in January but is bringing it back with a new Private Network beta extension that functions similarly to a VPN.
The extension basically provides an encrypted path to the internet that also adds a bit of privacy functionality. When connected to public Wi-Fi, the extension funnels internet traffic through a secure tunnel in order to protect any sensitive data such as bank logins and transactions. It also keeps the user's IP address masked to protect against third party trackers and advertising networks. There's a helpful toggle to turn the extension on and off when needed.
If this sounds like what a VPN does, you wouldn't be wrong. However, Mozilla is careful not to market the Private Network extension as a VPN, opting for the terms "secure, encrypted path" instead. Because many people use a VPN to circumvent geolocation restrictions for services like Netflix, Mozilla is trying to lean on privacy as the primary focus instead. Cloudflare is providing the actual proxy servers for the extension.
"There are many ways that your personal information and data are exposed: online threats are everywhere, whether it’s through phishing emails or data breaches. You may often find yourself taking advantage of the free WiFi at the doctor’s office, airport or a cafe. There can be dozens of people using the same network — casually checking the web and getting social media updates. This leaves your personal information vulnerable to those who may be lurking, waiting to take advantage of this situation to gain access to your personal info. Using the Firefox Private Network helps protect you from hackers lurking in plain sight on public connections."
As for why Test Pilot is being revived, Mozilla says that it learned a lot from a "loyal group of users" who provided valuable feedback. This led to changes in features and services and even resulted in some projects being cancelled outright due to user dissatisfaction. The new version of Test Pilot is a culmination of lessons learned and will even include products that aren't tied to the Firefox browser itself.
The Private Network extension is available to test out now on the desktop browser, however, it's limited to the U.S. for now.