Mozilla’s new ad feature

Edited to remove erroneous statements about what gets sent to Mozilla based on Matthew Miller’s comment below.

Mozilla’s release last week of in-browser ads has caused quite the discussion on the Fedora development mailing list. Firefox now will show sponsored “tiles” on the default home screen when a new or cleared profile is used. Although Mozilla claims to collect data in such a way that it’s not personally identifiable, there are reasons to be concerned. Sure, this can be disabled, but the default behavior is the only thing most users will experience.

The reactions on Fedora-devel spanned the gamut from indifference to insistence that Firefox be removed from the repository entirely. My own take (which was already represented on the mailing list, so I refrained from “me too”-ing) is that the right answer is to disable this feature in the Firefox build that ships in Fedora, effectively making it opt-in instead of opt-out. Mozilla has a history of being a good actor and I don’t begrudge them trying to make some money. However, I’d prefer that the user have to consciously enable such tracking.

Though I disapprove of the implementation, I find it hard to get very worked up about this. The Internet is awash in tracking. Google and Facebook probably know more about me than I do about myself. But that’s because I decided the value I get from those sites (well, not so much Facebook) is worth the data I give them. I respect the right of others to come to their own decision, which is why opt-in is preferred.

I appreciate the opinion of those who think the only appropriate response is to remove Firefox entirely, but I find that to be a wholly impractical solution. If Fedora wants casual desktop users (and I see no reason to not court that use case), having Firefox is and important part of a welcoming environment. A great deal of casual computing is done in the browser these days and Firefox is a well-known browser (even if some people call it “Foxfire”). Sure, there are other FLOSS browsers (including IceWeasel), but few of them work as well for casual users as Firefox and none of them have the familiarity and name recognition. Given the good Mozilla has done for free software over the years, this hardly seems like a bridge worth burning.

5 thoughts on “Mozilla’s new ad feature

  1. For clarification, Mozilla says that URL information is not sent for history tiles, just the “enhanced” ones. (That is, the ads.) In fact, they say that only the “tile ID, which encodes the tile destination” is sent for ad tiles, and not a URL; I’m not quite clear what that distinction means exactly, and will find out. More at

  2. Thanks for the clarification. I apparently misunderstood another description of the feature. I’ve updated the post to reflect reality.

    I agree that the “tile ID…not a URL” distinction is unclear. I look forward to hearing what you find out.

  3. Hey, I finally caught one of your blog posts soon enough for a comment to make sense, yay! I had some really interesting things to say about razors and badger brushes a while ago, but the moment had long passed 😛

    I’m with you on this, I think. I like the idea of no tracking as a sane default. I also appreciate Mozilla’s products, and the work they’ve done for the open source community. If there’s a chance to opt-in to some incidental ad exposure to support them, I’m happy to do it – but that doesn’t equate to believing everyone should have that choice made for them.

    Also, I hope that Mozilla still gets some revenue if I open new tabs and not click the links – I realized today that I’ve never *conciously looked* at those tiles. I open a new tab, type in the URL bar, and go.

  4. I’m with you on the opt-in, I’d always favour opt-in for ‘features’ such as Mozilla’s latest idea.

    Personally, I make a huge distinction between ads and tracking. Granted, a wealth of ads online also track, but it isn’t an imperative to do so. If a product has such minor ad placement as Firefox now has, I think we can live with it (albeit wish it wasn’t there).

    However, were we (the Fedora community) to endorse or include any form of user tracking alongside ads we would have to have a serious think about the values that go in to what we do.

  5. Pingback: Mozilla Will Relay Firefox User Input (Even Keystrokes) to Microsoft and the NSA Through Yahoo in the US | Something Different

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