Mozilla proposes that browsers may share user interests with websites

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 26, 2013
Updated • Jul 27, 2013

The web browser knows a lot about your activities. While those information are usually kept locally available only, for instance in form of the visited site history or local Internet cache, it is fairly certain that some of the information are snagged away by companies interested in these kinds of data, for instance in form of third party cookies.

A recent article on Mozilla Labs by Justin Scott proposes a system where the web browser, Firefox for example, could share information about your interests with websites that you visit so that content can be personalized for you.

What this could look like? You select to share interests with a website, say in technology or mechanics, and that website will provide you with content tailored to those interests. The technical side of the approach may work well depending on the granularity of options and how those websites make the content available.

For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible. Destinations like the Firefox Marketplace could recommend recipe and movie apps, even if it’s my first time visiting that site

I can hear some alarm bells going off right now and that is also one of my main concerns in regards to the proposal. While Mozilla promises that users will be in full control over their interests and what they share and with which website, it is likely something that at least part of Firefox's user base does not want to see implemented at all.

Mozilla notes that some Firefox users have already taken part in an experiment that tested the concept, and that this interest shows that at least part of the user base craves for these personalized experiences.

I do not think that you can link interest in the experiment and interest in running the feature in your browser that easily, considering that users who have participated in the experiment may have been curious about it more than anything else. This does not mean that they are not in favor of such an implementation on the other hand.

I have several concerns when it comes to the proposal.

  1. I do not want this natively implemented in Firefox. I do not mind if it is offered as an add-on, but a native implementation means that additional code is added to Firefox that may not be wanted or used by the majority of users. I assume it will be turned off by default if it is really implemented.
  2. It is not clear from the proposal alone if companies may be able to use the feature for tracking or advertisement purposes.
  3. Mozilla at its core is a browser developer and this type of feature falls more in the line of something that is pleasing companies and advertisers but not necessarily end users. This assumes that users can reach any content on the websites they visit on their own.
  4. I dislike personalization. I do not like it when Google tries to convince me that I wanted to search for something else, or displays different results to me than to my next door neighbor when we use the same query.

While the approach may be better than what we currently have on the Internet, its existence does not necessarily mean that other forms of personalization will just go away magically.

You can join the discussion over at Google Groups to voice your opinion on the matter.


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  1. A&L said on July 29, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Don’t we get tracked enough already..
    Isn’t Google paying Mozilla to have Google as Firefox default search engine

  2. anon said on July 28, 2013 at 8:10 am

    How far they can fall from this talk’s ( concerns. For shame!

    Sure as a webdev I have more separate browsers installed, but have been left without a browser for everyday surfing that I can completely trust, that’s secure, highly customizable (in regards to privacy and anonymity), and standard compilant browser? Opera served as that for 12ish years, but now…

    1. Orhin said on July 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Of course there are browsers which you can trust and which are compatible to normal Webstandards :)

      Try Midori or Qupzilla.. Lightweight Webkit Browsers :)

  3. mma173 said on July 27, 2013 at 10:12 am

    They are chromifing Firefox and now googlifing Mozilla :) If they keep going in this direction I assure Mozilla will disappear in the few years to come.

    1. Orhin said on July 27, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      Not disappearing… But Mozilla will lose with their questionable decisions a lot of weight – Just watch out, you can already find traces of it… More and more sites for “Chrome” only.

      If Mozilla does not get its acts together, they will find themselves dealing in some years with Opera and Safari in terms of Market Share, while i am no more a fan of Mozilla, this still would make me sad, because in the Past they DID have some reasonable impact.

      I wonder where the Quality Developers have left in all that years!

  4. Orhin said on July 27, 2013 at 6:19 am

    One more Reason not to use Firefox anymore! First we get the Chromification with very much restricted Customization and now this!

    One more reason for me staying now with smaller Linux/Windows Browsers.

    They do not look like Chrome, they do not work like Chrome and stay free of such crazy ideas!

    Thanks, but not for me.

  5. DavidGX said on July 27, 2013 at 5:59 am

    “How this could look like?”

    HOW something LOOKS. WHAT something LOOKS LIKE.

  6. Transcontinental said on July 27, 2013 at 2:08 am

    Strange. Just discovered a new Firefox add-on which fits exactly in this article’s topic : Private Client ( ) …

  7. DJ said on July 27, 2013 at 1:03 am

    The 99% don’t want, nor do they need so called “privacy” . Mellenials don’t understand nor do we want such privacy, in fact most people desiring such privacy are using it for nefarious purposes such as Snowden or Schwartz.

    The reality is that tailoring the user experience through advertising only makes for a better experience. Privacy is best left to the miscreants who feel they “need” it.

    1. Bob said on July 28, 2013 at 3:51 am

      Pretty sure the educated ones like Snowden are using TAILS to do there secret stuff.

    2. Transcontinental said on July 27, 2013 at 4:09 am

      Your plea seems more relevant of a state of mind than of a state of facts.

      1. Transcontinental said on July 27, 2013 at 6:10 am

        I don’t believe people, you, me, us are a problem, anyway not at this time. The scope remains that of this article, I’d dare not lay my state of mind when the relevance should remain in facts, arguable indeed.

      2. Wayfarer said on July 27, 2013 at 5:18 am

        “Those who have done nothing wrong need have nothing to fear” – eh, mate?

        Assuming you’re not simply trolling, people like you are part of the problem.

  8. Swapnil said on July 27, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Personalization, when not done aggressively and having an opt-out, isn’t that bad. For example, I would love to see ads of smartphones, tablets, software (except for the Run a Scan registry cleaner ads), printers, PCs instead of other useless ads which I hate so much that I block them. I am not interested in social media that much, why those Facebook plugin boxes with photos (often so distracting I want to set the entire Facebook domain set in the HOSTS file)? A small Facebook icon is good enough, linking to the Facebook page of the site. Instead of that plugin I would love to see a Nokia Lumia or Samsung Galaxy ad. If it was this way, I would be barely using Adblockers.

    1. Transcontinental said on July 27, 2013 at 2:01 am

      @Swapnil, I guess you meant an opt-in rather than an opt-out, because this is fundamental, especially for new users: the choice has to be deliberate.

      1. Swapnil said on July 27, 2013 at 4:41 am

        Well, I was talking about personalization in general rather than Mozilla’s plans. Personalization is currently partially opt-out able (by using various ad blockers and the like). I want it to be more accurate – but not by sifting through my browser history or tracking; by my own preference. And I want ads related only to my preference. And then it should be completely opt-out able because if it was opt-in, 99% people would not opt-in. This would lead to what currently happens anyway: tracking for personalisation.

  9. Karl J. Gephart said on July 26, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Great, Mozilla, the one nonprofit company in the world that I thought understood privacy!

  10. Transcontinental said on July 26, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I entirely agree with the four points developed by Martin. But as he pointed out as well, some users may like it, in fact some users don’t mind at all being tracked (though the feature here mentioned be not necessarily linked to tracking), I even know relatives who consider the attention brought to their sessions as a sign of consideration …
    Not me.

    Now the point as always — and I have no data to answer — would be to know where a majority is, is it a tight or not majority, also are users who take the wind as it comes fully aware of the implications on their privacy? No idea.

    We live in a world, marvelous by certain aspects but also in other ways a road to the ultimate of manipulation and disinformation, be I paranoid or not.

    As long as privacy issues remain an opt-in then I guess respect of the user is preserved.

  11. Kneyfield said on July 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Agreed. This kind of thing is exactly what extensions are for.

    Some already exist for similar purposes like the one by Similar Sites, whose creator also operates While it doesn’t cover the transmission of my user preferences to other websites, it allows me to find similar alternatives to the page I’m visiting right now.

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