Update: If you read the blog post careful, you may come to a different conclusion: what is definitely not going to happen is that Firefox will be turned "into a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder" and without user control or benefit. It still means that Mozilla will display advertisement on the new tab page.
Darren Herman, VP of Content Services confirmed that this is the case in a statement sent to use via email:
None of the tiles are sponsored at this time because the goal of initial experiments is to measure user interest and value of recommended content. Sponsorship would be the next stage once we are confident that we can deliver user value.
When Mozilla announced that it was experimenting with a new design for Firefox's default New Tab Page, it received lots of criticism for it.
The New Tab Page is displayed to users when a new tab is opened in the browser. Since the sites it displays depends on the user's usage of the browser, it is not displaying useful content on a new installation.
The idea was to populate the new tab page with a selection of popular sites. And since popularity may depend on the user's location in the world, it too became a factor.
The criticism came down to the fact that Mozilla thought about adding sponsored tiles to Firefox's New Tab Page as well.
The first announcement did not go into many details and some users already saw blinking Flash ads on the New Tab Page.
A specification was published shortly thereafter which outlined that sponsored tiles had to adhere to the same rules as regular tiles. This meant that they could only use a single static image, and that the image could not be sales related.
The most recent design of the page looked like this.
While that put some users at ease, it was not clear which metrics would be made available to third-party advertisers.
Jonathan Nightingale, Vice President of Firefox announced today that Mozilla has canceled the experiment. This means that there won't be sponsored tiles in future versions of the Firefox web browser.
User feedback on the matter seems to have been the main reason behind the decision to stop the experiment.
The plan to make the New Tab Page more useful to first time users of the Firefox browser still stands though, but advertisement is out of the picture.
It is very likely that Mozilla will use ideas from the failed experiment, especially in regards to design of the images on the new tab page and the sites displayed on it.
The easiest option for the organization would be to remove the sponsored tiles from the page and replace them with three tiles pointing to websites that are popular in a particular region of the world.
Jonathan Nightingale mentioned that Mozilla will test a mix of first and third-party sites, and also test various layouts, but that all of the tests won't be about revenue and that none will be collected in the process.
Mozilla's stance on privacy and user rights does not work well together with advertisement, and while the organization has to generate revenue to diversify income streams and reduce its dependency on Google, advertisements in the browser are not the way to do so.
My suggestion for the new tab page is to add at least one privacy related site to it, for instance the site of the EFF in North America to raise awareness for privacy and end-user related issues.