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​Mozilla quietly deploys built-in Firefox advertising

Firefox fans didn't want Mozilla to add ads to their favorite web browser, but more than a year after the idea was first suggested, "Suggested Tiles" have arrived.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

In February 2014, Mozilla announced that it was going to add preset tiles that included ads to Firefox. Users hated the idea and Mozilla put the plan on hold. Now, Mozilla has not only brought back the idea of Suggested Tiles Firefox ads, it's deployed them.

How Mozilla's Firefox Suggested Tiles works.
Darren Herman, Mozilla's VP of Content Services, announced in May 2015 that "Suggested Tiles represents an important step for us to improve the state of digital advertising."

Then, this summer, Mozilla quietly launched Suggested Tiles, the organization's latest commercial ad product. Well, it will be ads. At the moment, Mozilla claims it's not getting paid for them.

Herman explained, "Since early August, we have been delivering promoted content provided by our first wave of partners including Yahoo, a number of top tier news titles including Fortune Magazine and Quartz, and mission-oriented partners such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation."

Yahoo became Mozilla's biggest commercial partner with its November 2014 default-search engine deal.

Mozilla claims that "Suggested Tiles ensure that user privacy is respected and maintained by using a minimum amount of non-Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data to deliver relevant ads. There is no user modeling, no sharing of data and no unspecified tracking of behavior--the user can actually explicitly see why Tiles is showing certain content."

Herman added, "With Suggested Tiles, we want to show the world that it is possible to do relevant advertising and content recommendations while still respecting users' privacy and giving them control over their data."

That said, Firefox does send your browser Mozilla interaction history with the Tiles feature. Once there, your raw data is stored in the system's storage and analysis engine, Disco. The aggregated data is then saved to a data warehouse, Redshift. This data is then used to create high-level aggregate reports for advertisers.

Specifically, a Mozilla representative said Mozilla collects the following data:

  • Language preference
  • Tile ID
  • How many times the Tile was displayed
  • Where in the grid of tiles a Tile was displayed
  • What interaction the user has with a Tile:
  • "Rolled over"
  • "Hovered over"
  • Pinned
  • Blocked
  • Clicked
  • Moved

"This data is associated with an IP address and is stored for a maximum of seven days, while Mozilla reports on the performance of the Tile. Then the IP address is removed from the data which is then archived. Mozilla does not create a profile of an individual over time."

Mozilla is now looking for advertisers. They'll be starting their search at dmexco, a major global digital economy show in Cologne Germany on September 16 and 17.

Do you believe Mozilla's ad assurances? Will it make any difference to you? With only 11 percent of U.S. web browser users currently using Firefox, Mozilla hopes you'll stick with Firefox and its new ads.

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