Will Firefox Really Have Ads?

index 300x300 Will Firefox Really Have Ads?There has been a lot of sensational writing by a number of media outlets over the last 24 hours in reaction to a post by Darren Herman who is VP of Content Services. Lots of people have been asking me whether there will be ads in Firefox and pointing out these articles that have sprung up everywhere.

So first I want to look at the Merriam Webster definition of an Advertisement:


noun \ˌad-vər-ˈtīz-mənt; əd-ˈvər-təz-mənt, -tə-smənt\

: something (such as a short film or a written notice) that is shown or presented to the public to help sell a product or to make an announcement

: a person or thing that shows how good or effective something is

: the act or process of advertising

Great, now that we have the definition it looks like the fact that Mozilla announces to users their rights and asks about what data choices they make alone meet the criteria of an advertisement. The question is: does the average user consider that an advertisement or a useful bit of content that Mozilla is trying to share? Next, lets look at the fact that Firefox uses Google as a default search/home page and boom, if we use the literal sense of the definition that too is an advertisement isn’t it?

So now lets move on to Darren’s post. While I think the post could have had stronger context and there could have been a better response to address some of these concerns, the basic gist here is that Mozilla plans to offer tiles where there was a gap in content and that some of those tiles may be sponsored but will still be consistent with Mozilla’s values. Furthermore, this new content will only be displayed to new users and its unlikely you will see this anytime soon since it has not landed in Mozilla-Central and gone through the processes necessary to make it to a stable release.

Personally I think this is much ado over nothing and I think this feature and features like UP (User Personalization) are going to be very helpful to users and bake in some of the content that add-ons have typically provided.
Update: Please see Mitchell Baker’s (Chief Lizard Wrangler) and Denelle Dixon-Thayer’s (Mozilla General Counsel’s) have both posted on this topic.  Please feel free to read their posts:
  • http://www.nathanheafner.com/ nathan1465

    Google, who holds majority market share in the browser war, is built around harvesting and selling your data. Chrome to has ads in two respects. 1 many Google services that have ads are built/integrated into chrome. 2 chrome is a reverse ad. it’s soliciting itself to the user to hand over its data, and then turning the user into the ad. No fuss over that though.

  • http://twitter.com/tadowguy Matt Fischer

    Just call it what it is, an ad. Comparing it to google search is just weaseling. Considering the complaints you had about Ubuntu I’d have expected a stronger reaction from you.

    • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

      It is an ad by the literal definition the dictionary offers but for me its not an ad because its chief purpose is not necessarily commercial advantage. The complaints I had regarding Lenses/Scopes in Ubuntu had nothing to do with money being made or even that they were ads but that their were very clear privacy issues.

      Still today four lenses/scopes do not use HTTPS so it seems lessons were still not learned in that case but thats probably a topic for another blog post?

      • http://twitter.com/tadowguy Matt Fischer

        No commercial advantage, so Mozilla is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts? That’s not what sponsored means to me.

        • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

          Yeah, you realize Mozilla is a non-profit charitable organization right? Even Mozilla Corporation is owned by the non-profit so it has to operate under strict guidelines.


          • http://mike.kaply.com Mike Kaply

            Non-profit and charitable are two entirely different things. The NFL is a non-profit.

            Just because you’re a non-profit, doesn’t mean you can’t make a ton of money.

            • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

              For purposes of tax law the Mozilla Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit and from what I have heard has been audited a few times and passed with flying colors each time. Nobody said charitable organizations can’t make a ton of money… Look at Red Cross which raises millions every year funny nobody is upset about their advertising campaigns.

        • http://gkn.me.uk Greg K Nicholson

          No, they’ve said up front they’re doing it to generate revenue. Revenue != profits.

          Mozilla has to uphold their principles, otherwise I assume they would lose their non-profit charitable status.

      • pleia2

        How do you know there are no privacy issues with Mozilla’s plans? Ads routinely track user usage and clicks.

        I’m really disappointed in this post, you seem to lose a lot of objectivity were Mozilla is concerned. They need folks watching out for security missteps too.

        • http://gkn.me.uk Greg K Nicholson

          Because these are just simple links.

        • abral

          Mozilla is just adding default images in the empty grid (only for new installations, that don’t have a browsing history yet). The images are added by default, there’s no tracking.

        • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

          Because Mozilla does development and planning openly. There are no skunkworks… There is no sabdfl’ing a feature into a release. These are not ads but instead tiles that act like bookmarks much like Speed Dials or Myfave.es work.

          • jonobacon

            If you think there is no water-cooler at Mozilla you are naive.

            • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

              I’m not saying private discussions don’t happen but as a organization Mozilla does not use the same principles when make decisions like this. Community contributors are invited to closed door meetings and calls many of us are actually under NDA (several hundred of us that is).

          • Michael Hall

            There is no skunkworks in Ubuntu any more either, it was largely replaced by the completely open Core Apps proogram, neither of which requires an NDA.

            • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

              Fair enough but Canonical still makes decisions behind closed doors (pretty much skunkworks) in meeting and conversations that are walled off from the community contributors. You know this and I know this and frankly your team and many teams do private calls while every team at Mozilla announces the times/dates of their calls on wiki.mozilla.org with a link to the video chat and a call in number.

              Let me give you some examples:


              FWIW your team used to have open meetings on IRC and at one point would announce your video calls in advance on IRC but that stopped quite some time ago. But its not just your team its many of the engineering teams at Canonical that do not operate openly when it comes to their discussions and planning of what they are doing in Ubuntu.

        • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

          I would also like to add that Mitchell Baker has touched on the fact that the tiles will not track and will be privacy focused. https://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2014/02/13/content-ads-caution/

    • abral

      It’s not an invasive ad. They’re just default images in place of empty spaces in the grid. They are exactly like the default bookmarks.

      There’s no tracking involved, no user data will be ever sent to anyone.

  • jonobacon

    The irony. ;-)

    • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

      Two totally different scenarios my friend.

  • alereon

    This “content” (ad) is being added to the browser to extract value FOR Mozilla and advertisers FROM users. This is an about-face from the historic Mozilla mission of adding value FOR users. It’s really troubling to see people try to frame this as a user-focused decision when that is not just a lie, but a DAMN lie. That’s strong language, but I don’t see how it’s ethically or intellectually honest to present it any other way.

    • KilliK

      Have you donated any money to Mozilla Foundation, all these years that you are using your free products?

    • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

      If tiles are are not useful for users then why do Speed Dial and other add-ons and services like Myfav.es have nearly a million or more users? Clearly users have found this style of !s/ads/bookmarks useful.

  • voracity

    No, these would be ads. By the dictionary definition, in spirit, and any other way you want to slice it. They aren’t particularly bad ads. They are unlikely to influence Mozilla policy or software design, but they’re still ads.

    While *unlikely* to influence Mozilla’s major decisions, one can imagine ways in which that might happen; for instance, at some point in the future Mozilla may want to change this UI to better serve users, but can’t because it would come at a cost to revenue (and thereby their ability to make good products). It may also depend on who the strategic partners are — if those partners are highly commercial entities, that is bound to affect Mozilla’s decision-making. (Who are the strategic partners, by the way?)

    Nonetheless, I don’t object to the advertising — it’s a move down the slope, but the slope is not slippery (yet). But I *do* object when people try to impose their own will on the English language, particularly when it’s to avoid a loss of face. Mozilla should be honest and say: Yes, this is advertising, but we will keep it strictly limited to this, and you, our users and community, should call us to account if we don’t.

    • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

      Bookmarks must be ads too because Tiles are very similar to visual bookmarks which lots of users including myself already have using a third party site or add-on. In fact for the sake of lulz here is my new tab window http://i.imgur.com/vpPFavJ.jpg Oh dear the humanity look at all those ads… umm bookmarks… tiles to sites I find useful!

      • voracity

        - If the bookmarks have been sponsored directly, then yes, that’s unambiguous advertising. (And I don’t have a problem with it.)

        - If the bookmarks are from organisations that sponsor Mozilla in other ways, and were selected by Mozilla because of those sponsorship arrangements, then that’s advertising too. (And I don’t have a problem with it.)

        - If Mozilla selected the bookmarks purely based on what they believe would be useful for their users to see, that’s not advertising. If some of the bookmarks happen to be from sponsoring organisations, then it’s ambiguous as to whether or not it’s advertising, but it’s unambiguous that there is a conflict of interest. Whether or not the conflict of interest leads to an abuse is a separate matter, which people talking about corruption and related issues seem to conveniently ignore.

  • http://idev.me/ Abdulrahman M.

    I thought the answer will be yes or no, but I shocked when I realized that you are trying to convince us that this is something great and ‘helpful’ .. I wonder if this came from Canonical what you respond will be like!.

    • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

      Since your touching on the Amazon scopes/lenses issue I never opposed Canonical making a buck of Ubuntu in fact I think its good they make money since they are not profitable and need to become profitable to succeed. My concern with that feature was that is violated user privacy.

      This feature will be a bookmark and not run into any privacy issues so far as I’m concerned. It will need to pass the checks and balances to make it to the end user which is a lot of approvals and oversight from teams and individuals and I happen to be one of the individuals that will get to watch this feature move along and have input.

  • http://gkn.me.uk Greg K Nicholson

    These directory tiles are basically default bookmarks, except that they get automatically replaced by sites you often visit (once you’ve visited some sites).

  • Dennis Shimer

    Please forgive the cross posting of a portion of the comment I left on Michael Halls response. The last part of my thoughts so clearly express my feelings I really wanted to add them here.

    “Since I’m not a developer other than some primary school level python hacking I tend to be a lot more forgiving of decisions that made at the top in big and small projects. I am just so utterly amazed at the work that is done constantly around the globe on my behalf so that I can enjoy first rate products in open formats for whatever small time or cash donations I can make. It would be impossible to thank even a tiny portion of the folks whose work benefits me, so at the very least I’ll comment positively, suggest constructively, and support in whatever humble way I can.”

    Are they adds? Maybe, maybe not, to me that isn’t the point, as with every other project I benefit from when something changes I can decide if the change benefits my workflow, or offends my sensibilities. If I don’t like it I can choose another product or go to a computer store and hand them money to give me box of proprietary fun.