Advertisement is not that new of a concept when it comes to the Firefox browser,as you could say that the deal that Mozilla made with Google to place Google Search prominently in the browser is a a form of advertisement.
But, most users won't object to the inclusion for several reasons. First, it is possible to change the default search engine in Firefox. Second, most users use Google Search anyway, and if another search engine would be made available by default, many would probably request that it be changed to Google Search.
Mozilla announced today that it will start selling ads in Firefox soon. But, it won't be as bad as it sounds at first as the ads will only be placed in a single location that existing Firefox users won't really be exposed to at all, and new ones not for long.
As you may know, Firefox's new tab page displays nine websites currently by default that you have visited frequently in the past.
On first start of the browser however, there won't really be any sites listed here, as you have not visited any yet. You may see the Mozilla site listed there that welcomes you to the Firefox world, but the remaining space is blank and not populated.
Mozilla will introduce Directory Tiles to Firefox, pre-packaged contents that fill that space for first time users.
Directory Tiles are a mixture of Mozilla links, popular websites based on the user's geographical location, and sponsored contents.
Mozilla stated that it will hand-pick sponsored tiles partners, and that the tiles will be clearly labeled as sponsored, so that users can easily distinguish between them and regular tiles.
Mozilla is not the first organization to pre-populate the new tab page with links to popular sites. The Opera browser's Speed Dial page for instance ships with a selection of global and local site links as well.
Mozilla has yet to announce partners for the new sponsored tiles program.
The impact of the program is limited to first time Firefox users, and users who install the browser anew without using Firefox Sync or data from an existing profile.
So why is Mozilla doing it? The most likely explanation, and I won't consider the "it is the best for the user" explanation that Darren Herman gives a valid one, is that the organization tries to diversify its revenue. Most of it comes from a single deal with Google, and while that is reassuring on the one hand, as it is easier to work with one partner than with many, it is also a dangerous dependency on a company that is a competitor in the browser field.
It is not clear yet if the new feature will have any privacy implications.
Update: According to Mitchell Baker, the Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, the sponsored results won't have a tracking feature.
I understand that Mozilla needs to generate revenue to keep Firefox development up and running. That is fine, and reducing the dependency on Google is fine as well.
The feature depends a lot on the sponsored tiles that are displayed in Firefox. It is likely that most users won't mind the listing of popular sites, Amazon for example, as a sponsored tile on Firefox's tab page.
If Mozilla can make money from that, great. It is not really that different from the deal it made with Google.
As long as it is possible to remove those tiles from Firefox permanently, I do not really object to the idea.
Some may say that it sets a precedent, and if it is successful, could lead to more ads in other browser locations.
For now, I'm trusting Mozilla that they are doing the right thing. That the privacy of users is protected, that user data won't be shared with third-parties, and that Firefox won't become a browser that only exists to drive ad revenue to its parent company.
What's your take on this?