Firefox OS privacy controls

5 key privacy features of FirefoxOS in an overview

Mozilla teamed up with Telekom Innovation Labs and IXDS to develop an introduction tour and control interface for the remarkable privacy features of their novel Firefox OS. This operating system is meant for entry level phones in emerging markets, where Mozilla sees the chance and the necessity to empower users for a safe journey into the mobile web.


For any user, but especially for these potential “newbies”, privacy and security need good explanation and motivation: security risks can be distant and vague and technical backgrounds can feel intimidating. At the same time, users are usually up for something else than privacy, such as setting up their phone to make the first call. “Respect my task & time”, how Larissa Co brings it to the point in her excellent talk. (yes, we need to face it: taking care of privacy and security is on no ones todo list and is usually not “productive” per se.)


We approached this UX challenge by strictly limiting topcis and features, using short and fresh explanations, and carefully drawn illustrations. To arrive there, we initiated co-creative workshops with users, Mozilla, and Telekom Group Privacy. We also worked very closely with the respective tech teams to make sure our ideas would make it into reality. We could build on IXDS user research knowledge on privacy and identity from previous projects and from Mozilla’s research team.
Mozilla does not rely on the exploitation of private data (e.g., for targeted marketing) and therefore is a trustworthy broker for the user. They can offer features like granualar permissions (in Android only very briefly in 4.3 / 2013 in the Cyanogen Custom ROM) or blurred location tracking.

The results were also presented at the W3C workshop on usable privacy controls (Berlin, 2014).

  • Early sketches from a workshop to find the best approach for the privacy tour.


During the highly playful workshops, the participants produced some really entertaining and insightful explanations on privacy topcis, e.g. a role playing video in the style of a Kids TV series to explain email encryption. This shows how important it is to move privacy questions out of their dry and defensive atmosphere and give more personal, active, and playful answers.

It also helps to be very clear about your target groups. Only few activists will accept harsh security and privacy settings to really protect them, even against more targeted attacks. Regular users see their benefit in more peace of mind and a sense of control over their data but it must be balanced with the general comfort and user experience.

Note: The Privacy Dashboard and the included Guided Tour are also scientifically evaluated in Piekarska et al (2015): Because We Care. Privacy Dashboard on Firefox OS.



Breadboard view of Fritzing (more recent version)

Fritzing is an electronic circuit design software focused on makers and enthusiasts, rather than engineers. For this, it takes special care to explain electronic circuits and to make them accessible, e.g. by a dedicated view that reflects the physical appearance of electronic parts. At the same time, it contains everything to design and document a full project and make it production ready.

Initiated at FH Potsdam (Reto Wettach & André Knörig), it was built for but also heavily with the maker community. Its open file format allows easy documentation and sharing of electronic projects, enabling and boosting open source in the hardware area. It’s widely used in the community for presenting open source projects, for feedback, and for learning.

I contributed as a UX and visual designer, mostly in the area of the “Parts Editor”, that helps users modify or create parts, modify their internal logic such as connection points to wires, and provides a taxonomy for the parts library. I also explored user interfaces for potential new features, such as electrical rules checking.

  • Parts Editor: Error messages for connectors

Remarks on Service Design

You can even order a professionally produced circuit board from within the application. This is a remarkable feature from an interface and service design perspective: From the user’s design, the software creates the necessary production files, shows prices directly within the app, collects information for shipping, and sends everything to a factory. The user doesn’t have to deal with file formats, production standards, researching a production facility, or negotiating contracts. All of this is taken care of through the application and the Fritzing Fab server. Considerable technical and commercial coordination has to be negotiated and operational in the background but it doesn’t come to the user’s attention.

Besides its merrits for advancing the open source ideas in the hardware sector, Fritzing has also explored a number of business models around an open source core software.