Mozilla clarifies, defends Firefox ad position

Mozilla clarifies, defends Firefox ad position

Summary: Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, defends Firefox's new ad program. Firefox users remain wary.


The surprising news that Mozilla would start placing a limited number of ads on Firefox's new tabs page, Directory Tiles, still has some users annoyed.

Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation explained and defended the Foundation's new ad program, but many supporters remain unconvinced.

Mitchell Baker, Mozilla chair
Mitchell Baker, the chair of the Mozilla Foundation, explained and defended the new ads in the Firefox Web browser.

According to Baker, previous attempts to add advertisement content to Firefox had been rejected by the Firefox user community. Baker described these as "features, bookmarks, tabs, and other irritants added to the product to generate revenue. We’d seen Mozilla code subsequently 'enhanced' with these features, and so we have a very strong, very negative reaction to any activities that even remotely remind us of this approach to product That’s good."

Firefox users would agree. So, what's changed?

Baker explained: "This reaction somehow became synonymous with other approaches that are not necessarily so helpful. For a number of years we refused to have any relationship with our users beyond we provide software and they use it. We resisted offering content unless it came directly from an explicit user action. This made sense at first when the web was so young. But over the years many people have come to expect and want their software to do things on their behalf, to take note of what one has done before and do something useful with it."

"We think we can offer people useful content in the Tiles," she added. "When we have ideas about how content might be useful to people, we look at whether there is a revenue possibility, and if that would annoy people or bring something potentially useful. Ads in search turn out to be useful. The gist of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like 9 Tiles on a page, and that 2 or 3 of them would be sponsored — aka 'ads.' So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka 'ads') could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes."

At the same time, these won't be like normal ads. These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features." The emphasis is Baker's. Since maintaining user privacy has long been one of Mozilla's defining features, this should help reassure loyal Firefox users.

Baker concluded, "Pretty much anytime we talk about revenue at Mozilla people get suspicious. Mozillians get suspicious, and our supporters get suspicious. There’s some value in that, as it reinforces our commitment to user experience and providing value to our users. There’s some drawbacks to this as well, however. I’ll be talking with Mozillians … in the coming days on these topics in more detail."

On the blog, users expressed concern over the lack of detail about how this would work. Others worried that Mozilla was "entering onto a slippery slope where eventually 'monetization' will be the primary goal in deciding elements of the browser’s design rather than user experience. Already there are rumors floating around about such extreme future actions as getting rid of the ability to have 3rd-party add-ons due to their potential to disrupt Mozilla’s revenue stream somehow."

Still others disliked the way that the ads were first presented in a "shockingly amateurish" fashion. In the blog's comments, Baker agreed that it could have been handled better. She said, "Details are important and we would have done much better if we had gotten our steps ordered differently and discussed and vetted the details first."

She also explained that one reason why Mozilla is looking for more revenue is the cost of creating Firefox OS. "Building an entire mobile ecosystem is extremely expensive," said Baker. "Offering services is expensive. If we don’t do these things then we will not be able to offer people the tools for modern life."

Baker also hinted that Mozilla might also look at other ways to bring in revenue. "Other models could work too. Note that if we offer fremium services we might want to tell people about them, and maybe that would seem like advertising too …… lots of details involved in making any approach work."

Today Mozilla gets almost all of its funding from Google. Indeed, in 2012, 90 percent of its revenue came from its Google search deal with far less than 1 percent coming from donations. Clearly Mozilla needs to diversify its revenue streams lest it become little more than a branch of Google.

Still Baker realizes that Firefox's culture is very hostile to advertising. Baker added that "We recognize the slippery slope issue. We came out of that setting, where the product we built at Netscape was deeply damaged for this," and they've no desire to repeat those mistakes.

Mozilla will have to walk a very narrow line between creating its own native sources of revenue and alienating its user base. Baker is working hard to get Mozilla on the right path after its initial mis-steps. It will be interesting to see how well Mozilla can pull off this balancing act in the coming months.

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Topics: Networking, Google, Linux, Open Source, Privacy, Web development

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  • Mozilla clarifies, defends Firefox ad position

    Its a matter of whether I can disable this feature or not. Maybe through about:config. If I can't disable it then I'll use one of the firefox variants who will.
    • Why? you don't use Firefox anyway.

      Being a diehard Windows fan, I thought all you could use was IE..
      • Derp

        Derp derp derp!
      • He's confessed to being an FF user...

        ...for the past several years, so at least he's being consistent.
        John L. Ries
      • You never have to see it

        It only appears if you open a new empty tab before you've visited 9 web pages, after that your recently visited pages will populate those tiles.

        I want new tabs to be blank, personally. You can set that easily by opening a new tab and clicking the icon in the upper right corner. That will blank the tab, and after that they will open blank except for that icon - unless you click it again to restore the tiles.
    • I think it needs to go further than that

      We need the option to turn off the ads during installation aka custom installation options, and also have a option to turn it off in the Menu options when we use Firefox.
    • Firefox adds,

      Can you disable adds on other websites No, so don't talk silly
  • Did a double take

    "Mitchell" is not usually a female name, but the individual in the picture is obviously female.
    John L. Ries
    • Wfere in the world are You?

      My grandchildren's mother is named Mitchell
  • I sympathize with her position

    Mozilla needs the money and Google may or may not support it in the future, but I don't think trying to serve ads on an open source program anybody can compile (with some patience) is going to do what Mozilla needs it to.

    Would it help if Firefox and Thunderbird had donation icons? Might it make sense to sell binaries for a few dollars (if you want it for free, compile it yourself)? Mozilla is hardly the first nonprofit faced with the problem of raising funds.
    John L. Ries
  • Slippery Slope

    Either find sources of revenue that won't cheese off the user base, or potentially become Netscape revisited under the weight of Google.

    Tough call, I don't envy Mitchell one iota.
    • The Sky is Falling

      Ultimately I do not think this will cheese off the user base. Much has been made of it in the press (often not giving the full story) leading to commenters pledging to abandon the traitorous Firefox.

      Only a fresh install of Firefox with no history would display anything in the new tab grid and even then if you wanted to quickly dispose of them they'd be easier to deal with than the preinstalled bookmarks that come in all browsers. Click the X in the corner of a tile or browse to nine different websites or restore your history and bookmarks using Firefox Accounts (the new sync which will be available by the time this is released).

      I think the default search engine which daily routes users (for profit) "takes advantage" of users much more than this.
      • New Sync?

        I caught your '(the new sync which will be available by the time this is released)'. First I hear such a thing.
        I hope so. I refuse, as many, many others to even bother with FF's Sync. I find it simply horrid and unworkable. That's why FF is not anymore on my Phone and being used less and less on my Computers.
        Chrome's Sync is so simple. Just Sign In, and it works.
    • Slippery Slope

      True, Always use the Official web site weather it is Mozilla or Microsoft. I do it anyways whether I am downloading or not.
      Be careful where you tread, it is the deadly internet jungle where creatures are waiting for you to make a wrong move. These creatures will infect you with some kind of virus or malware, pregnate your device with their dna so it can put its intended tool bar on your downloads. They could watch you when you turn the pc camera on, they can hijack your app or even track your strokes as you key in. Enough of the gloomy talk, enjoy your Firefox.
  • Ads & pain in the ass toolbars

    I was doing a re-install, got fed up with explorer freezing every time I looked at it,
    thought about installing Chrome, then when for Firefox.
    Firefox so kindly had one of those "stealth" toolbars, hidden where you wouldn't normally look for a check/uncheck box, and I would up with Conduit and Ask on all 3 browsers.

    Gee thanks Mozilla.

    I got the stuff cleaned up, and uninstalled Firefox.

    Chrome is where I'll have to stay until MS learns how to build a browser.
    Seems weird that Firefox and Chrome NEVER freeze, and IE never works properly.
    Then when you tell it to close because it froze, it pops up a window telling you it's trying to fix the problem - too little too late. Close the fricking browser when I want it to close, not when some windows programmer (who decides he knows better than me what the bleep I want) decides to let it close.
    • Mozilla does not package malware or toolbars

      Conduit is an invasive species and Mozilla has no relationship with them.
      Mozilla does not include any toolbars or addons with Firefox.

      If it got installed when you installed Firefox it's more likely that you did a search for firefox and there was a fraudulent ad at the top of the search results that linked to a website that provided a download which included other crap with it.

      Only download Firefox from
      • Yep, and make sure you spell it right

        If you google mozzila instead of mozilla, the first things thst come up are sponsored links to dodgy websites - probably serving Conduit or worse.
  • As long as they don't track users like Google

    I have been using Firefox for years and would much rather see them advertise, than Google, as long as they respect the users privacy. I have not clicked on a Google generated ad in years and don't plan to ever again. I have learned to totally ignore the Google ads, like I ignore spam email.
  • I fine with it, as long we have options

    If you load up Opera for example, the tab page has facebook, amzon, ebay, twitter, youtube, so I don't find it too bad b/c you can easily remove them if you wish.

    As ideal as it is not to let any hint or potential risk of ad corrupting the mission statement of Mozilla, if you don't diversify the income in and Google decide to pull the plug then you aren't helping anyone. I am also ready to switch to Chrome entirely b/c I have a healthy skepticism of Google as everybody should. So I am ok, Mozilla need to be transparent and give users options.

    And before people suggest alternatives with Chrome or IE, we have to take into account they have a different dynamic. A fresh install of Chrome will first ask you to sign into chrome, and its tab page also have have ads whether it is to its app store or text based ads. Chrome is also a gateway for it services and all that that entails. The point is yes, Chrome tries aggressively to monetize its users.

    Don't use IE much, but I do know IE integrates by default with Bing, theoretically works best with its Office web programs and I expect some type of Skydrive integration or push in the near future.

    ads are ok if they are on the side lines that could attract attention of the firefox user as subliminal messages or messages that entice value. but the invasive ads that pop up are sometimes not easy to close. if the ad is not of any interest to the consumer or the user then that should be the end of it. the consumer feels like the ad is a paparazzi that cannot be easily shaken off. I hope Mozilla - Firefox takes these facts into consideration and not let advertisers do what ever they want to do on the website.