Mozilla publishes sponsored tile specification for partners

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 19, 2014
Updated • May 3, 2014

When Mozilla announced that it would introduce sponsored tiles to Firefox, lurid headlines were used by many websites and news outlets.

These headlines were sometimes misleading, as they made it seem like Mozilla would plaster advertisement all over Firefox, and sell out its user base to the highest bidding party.

The facts: The idea was to add sponsored tiles to Firefox's new tab page for new users of the browser, and for users who install the browser anew without using synchronization or the import of backups of their own.

Mozilla has released a first specification for partners which defines what the organization expects and how those tiles may look like.


The new tab page consists of nine thumbnail representations of websites and services just like before. A Google search form is displayed on top of it, and the three rows of thumbnails display the directory tiles, that is the partner content, in the middle.

Next to that, popular services such as YouTube or Facebook are displayed.

It needs to be noted that these are only displayed on first run for new users, and not for existing users.

All tiles share the same layout and style guide. They are made up of a single 180x150 pixel image depicting the brand and a text underneath.

The brand image may consist of a centered logo, wordmark, or both, on a solid colored background. Companies may not use sponsored tiles for sales pitches, discounts, dollar amounts or sales according to Mozilla's specification.

So, what you won't get here are dynamic ads, media ads, ads that are loaded from remote servers, or any other form of advertisement that is not static in nature. In essence, this is just a web link to a web service with a thumbnail attached to it.

Sponsored tiles are highlighted with a small arrow icon underneath the title. If you move the cursor over it, additional information about it is displayed as well options to disable the feature in the browser.

Since all advertisement is static in nature, it cannot be used to track users. If images would be hosted remotely, companies could link each load of the image to a particular user, but since that is not the case here, there is no such danger.

The new sponsored tile feature will be added to the US-English version of Firefox first. Mozilla expects to generate revenues between $5m and $10m per year from this type of sponsorship.

Closing Words

To sum it all up. Mozilla will launch Directory Tiles on US-versions of Firefox first. A total of three sponsored tiles are displayed to new users on the new tab page. These tiles may not be sales related, and do not track users. Firefox users can disable the feature at any time with a couple of clicks.

So, it is not as bad as some have made it look like. While it will still introduce advertisement to Firefox, I think it is a form that most users can live with comfortably.

Now Read: How the new sponsored tiles will look like


Tutorials & Tips

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  1. jboriss said on March 19, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Hi there! I’m afraid that me putting drafts of ongoing projects on a server for internal use isn’t really publishing or releasing on Mozilla’s part, though you’re welcome to look at my working files.

  2. Nostromo said on March 19, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    John92 already posted two….. can we assume you need others to do your research for you?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 20, 2014 at 6:56 am

      Those three are just about metrics that Mozilla gets. They do not track individual users. Plus, those are bug listings, not something that has been implemented yet. And if you do not like it, simply disable the feature or use Firefox to get rid of those tiles.

  3. Nostromo said on March 19, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    Seriously who paid for this article? Poorly researched and only vague idea of the relevant bugs that really say what is going to happen

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 19, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      Instead of complaining about the article, why not post the relevant bugs so that we can all take a look? And while you are at it, why not just post what you think is inaccurate. Thanks!

  4. Niks said on March 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    OT – Did Australis land in v29 beta ? If yes , will you please write a review article ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      I review it when it hits stable. There is not really anything new to report.

      1. Niks said on March 19, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        Still , beta should mean major bugs removed , performance almost same when it hits stable , no major changes etc .

  5. John92 said on March 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

    “These tiles may not be sales related, and do not track users.”

    Are you sure about that?

    “Add counting of Tile impressions, clicks (inc. which tile and position)” “Counting of tile impressions and clicks will give us data to determine the usefulness and interaction rate of specific Tiles as well as positions of tiles.”

    “Unique impressions per region when directory tiles are visible is sent back to Mozilla through a channel such as FHR”

    That kinda looks like user tracking to me.

    1. Anonymous said on March 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      FHR is Mozilla’s own Firefox Health Report. It sends anonymous data such as number of bookmarks, time open total/this month, number of crashes total/this month, startup time, number of installed add-ons/plugins, and more.

      Now I’m not sure if it’s enabled by default in stable/beta channels, but it is in Aurora/Nightly. If you don’t like it, you can easily disable it! Either in Options (take a look, it’s under Advanced tab), or go to about:healthreport.

      1. John92 said on March 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm

        With respect, read the bug.

        “a channel such as FHR”.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on March 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Well sort of. Third-party companies won’t be able to track you. Mozilla will track metrics to improve their position when it comes to closing those deals, and maybe to adjust it when users do not seem to interact with those elements, or even cancel it completely.

  6. Krisada said on March 19, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Well, since I use add-on for better speed dial on new tab I won’t see any of this anyway.

  7. Nebulus said on March 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

    I cannot help but wonder how long it will take until they switch to a tracking/remote version of ads in order to earn even more money…

    1. Caspy7 said on March 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Well, historically they’ve gone to fair lengths to avoid tracking their own users (and stopping others from doing the same), and that even before they put such language in writing in their manifesto.
      So far the pattern has continued, so I’m not expecting very soon.

  8. Swapnil said on March 19, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Good if this way Mozilla can substantially reduce their dependence on Google for revenue.

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