Mozilla's Directory Tiles: ads and other pre-populated contents for a better user experience

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 11, 2014
Updated • Feb 13, 2014

firefox new tab page

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.

Closing Words

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?


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  1. Luis said on April 24, 2014 at 10:56 am

    That would be fine for me not because I am using Chrome but because it willn’t track me and it wouldn’t be annoying.

  2. NeilBR said on February 13, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Opera already did that when it was still in the Presto era. And it’s wise enough to give ads according to your geolocation.

    And the reason Chrome did not had ads in such perspicacious manner is because Google has ads everywhere in its products.

    BUt maybe Mozilla can think of nicer ways of making revenue out of browsers.

  3. hum said on February 12, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Stick a fork in it.

  4. penu said on February 12, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Ubuntu also displays ads in the OS and that’s part of the reason I stopped using it. That sort of thing should be opt-in not opt-out. I’m really disappointed in firefox’s decision to do this because it’s also a “way of thinking” and new direction for the organization. I’ll always be a Firefoxer as they’re still the best option but I hope they don’t screw this up.

  5. Lesnik said on February 12, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Wow, first Firefox was turned into Mozgoogle Chromefox and now it is turned into Mozgoogle AdChromefox? Are you serious about that? :D

    Fine for me, means i enjoy an Australis and Adfree Seamonkey in the future. But today’s abomination which calls itself Mozilla and acts like an “Open Source Software”… Oh deepest pits of hell, that happens if you are sitting with Google in one boat for too long and start to become greedy. Today’s Mozilla organization is so much away from their glorious roots and all what that guys do time over time is leave behind burned ground.. It is a damn shame!

    Btw. i am the maintainer of a smaller local 40 people strong fangroup of Firefox, today i got at work disturbed by countless angry phonecalls and now at the end of the day our group is down to 10 people just because of that! Guess what the guys are using now… Seamonkey :D Which i can clearly understand and support of course too.

    Seriously, Mozilla can not be taken serious anymore, a once proud browser developer has turned into utterly garbage..

  6. Ken Saunders said on February 12, 2014 at 3:25 pm


    Mozilla receives revenue from non-open source companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon), and has for long time.
    “Advertising-supported software
    In order to commercialize FOSS, many companies (including Google, Mozilla, and Ubuntu) have moved towards an economic model of advertising-supported software. For instance, the open-source application AdBlock Plus gets paid by Google for letting whitelisted Acceptable Ads bypassing the browser ad remover. As another example is SourceForge, a open-source project service provider, has the revenue model of advertising banner sales on their website. In 2006, Sourceforge Inc reported quarterly takings of USD$6.5 million and $23 million in 2009”

    1. Ken96 said on February 13, 2014 at 1:38 am

      “In order to commercialize FOSS, many companies (including Google, Mozilla, and Ubuntu) have moved towards an economic model of advertising-supported software”

      I’m not sure how this is relevant. I stated that Firefox is now Adware, you are simply reeling off lists of other companies which use advertising. Does that change the fact that Firefox is now Adware and that Adware free open source alternatives exist?

      I’ll use an adware free alternative thanks.

  7. Rocky said on February 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm


    “Mozilla believes that a user’s data is their own and they should have complete control over it.”

    If you believe that Google does not have this belief is there not an inherent contradiction in accepting funding from such an entity ?

    If adverts are ok for Mozilla then what is wrong with Google making money from advertising ?

    Personally I am not arguing for or against the proposition – just trying to tease out the issue

  8. Bobby Phoenix said on February 12, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    No worries here. I use a speed dial extension for my home page, and new tabs. :-)

  9. Paul(us) said on February 12, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I am more cynical than you for now this because of probably more disappointing experience. When company’s even those who giving there product for (almost think advertisement) free I am always taking a closer look to there reasons, because I know nothing is for free. I am quit sure that Google is using they (Mozilla) to become more aware about the geographical information of there users for later more direct advertisement purposes.

  10. Ken Saunders said on February 12, 2014 at 8:29 am

    ” to place Google Search prominently in the browser is a a form of advertisement”
    There is truth to that, technically, but certainly not in the traditional sense. People aren’t clicking on something to make a purchase, they are being provided with a service and the distance between using that search box and purchasing something via some sort of ad on Google (text link or other) is great.

    “Most of it comes from a single deal with Google”
    Fact, but there are others and I only mention it because that’s all (not you), that most people think and know about.
    “The majority of our revenue comes from the search functionality in the Firefox browser through a number of major partners, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Amazon and eBay.”
    ” A growing percentage of our revenue also comes from support from the public, including grants and individual donors”
    If Google wasn’t the default provider, it would be someone else, perhaps Bing.
    Then people would be saying that Microsoft owns Firefox instead of Google which pisses me off.

    “it is also a dangerous dependency on a company that is a competitor in the browser field.”
    If that were an issue, the deal wouldn’t have been renewed. Google and Mozilla have sharply contrasting reasons for developing browsers.
    Chrome’s purpose is to help generate revenue for Google.
    Firefox exists for many reasons and you’d have to go back to the original Mozilla browser (Mozilla Suite) for the whole story, but it”s basically Mozilla acting on its words.
    “build and enable open-source technologies…that support the Manifesto’s principles;
    build and deliver great consumer products that support the Manifesto’s principles;”

    As far as the topic of this article, it is really kind of shocking at first to hear, unless you know and trust Mozilla which I do, and I know that you do. Mozilla believes that a user’s data is their own and they should have complete control over it.
    I wouldn’t worry about privacy issues.

  11. Ken96 said on February 12, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Uninstalled. It’s the very definition of Adware.

    “Adware, or advertising-supported software, is any software package which automatically renders advertisements in order to generate revenue for its author. The advertisements may be in the user interface of the software or on a screen presented to the user during the installation process”.

    1. Ken Saunders said on February 12, 2014 at 8:32 am

      The very site that you are commenting on has advertising support as does the majority of the ones that you have and will visit.

      1. Ken96 said on February 12, 2014 at 2:28 pm

        “The very site that you are commenting on has advertising support as does the majority of the ones that you have and will visit.”

        This site isn’t an Open Source project.

  12. phyz said on February 12, 2014 at 5:49 am

    today trust(in the form of internet privacy) is a pretty big thing these days, and mozilla you may be the top of that pyramid. an entity must do what it can in order to sustain itself, and in the interim we all can understand moving to advertisement. but please, please find ways to protect and reinforce the core reason mozilla has become, the end users right to choose.

    something that could really find value with the mozilla name would be a premium guaranteed private personal web experience. such as a vpn with non-identifying search option, email, instant messaging, and cloud storage. we the people have had enough of our natural born rights taken advantage of and WE look to those who bacame big by standing our backs to restore ways that are right.

  13. Caspy7 said on February 12, 2014 at 2:27 am

    This will only be seen by new users for fresh installs. The tiles get pushed out as the user surfs and populates the history (or pins bookmarks) or can be removed manually by hitting the X just like normal.
    This seems less bothersome than default bookmarks that have to be manually removed.

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