Firefox gets an experimental 'Private Network' feature – and you can try it now

Mozilla has resurrected its Firefox Test Pilot program, which lets users test experimental new features. Its first trial is a 'Private Network' tool, which the company says will protect your data when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. The developer stops short of calling it a VPN, but the principle sounds very similar.

"One of the key learnings from recent events is that there is growing demand for privacy features," Mozilla said in a blog post. "The Firefox Private Network is an extension which provides a secure, encrypted path to the web to protect your connection and your personal information anywhere and everywhere you use your Firefox browser."

According to Mozilla, the Firefox Private Network provides "a secure tunnel to the web" when you use a public hotspot, preventing your browser traffic being intercepted. It also masks your IP address, making it impossible for third parties to identify your browsing location.

The feature is currently available for testing in the US only, and is available as an extension for Firefox. To activate it, just click the extension and toggle it on.

A premium preview?

This isn't the first time we've heard of a Firefox Private Network tool. In July, TechRadar discovered a hidden page asking users whether they would consider subscribing to such a tool for $12.99 a month. With this in mind, it seems likely that its appearance in Test Pilot is a way of gathering feedback before its imminent release as a paid-for service.

As Firefox's senior vice president Dave Camp explained to TechRadar in an interview last month, Test Pilot had its limitations, mainly that its participants were a self-selecting group who were more technically-minded than the average user, which led the company to close the program early this year.

Now, however, it's back with a more specific purpose. "The difference with the newly relaunched Test Pilot program is that these products and services may be outside the Firefox browser," Mozilla explained.

The company has always made clear that Firefox itself will remain free to use, so the fact that Test Pilot is being used to trial tools 'outside the browser' suggests that they will indeed be the paid-for additions. We'll be keeping a close eye on the new Test Pilot to see what other premium tools might be on the horizon.

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