Mozilla's new sponsored tiles revenue stream may not be worth it

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 17, 2014

The Internet runs on advertisement. While there are some sites and services that do okay without it, and lets not forget the free sites out there that are run by users in their spare time, it is fair to say that ads keep a large part of the web rolling right now.

Mozilla, even though it is a non-profit, needs to earn money to pay its employees and maintain the company's infrastructure.

One could argue that the organization is spreading its wings out too far instead of concentrating on core products but fact is, Mozilla needs money to continue operations.

The majority of the money that Mozilla earns comes from Google. The partnership with Google ensures that Google is the default search engine of the browser and that is what Mozilla is getting paid for.

There is always a chance that Google won't renew the deal which would in turn mean that Mozilla would lose more than 90% of its revenue over night. While there is a chance that another company would step in, Microsoft and its Bing engine come to mind, it is likely that Mozilla would earn less as a result.

It is only in the best interest of the organization to look for new revenue streams to diversify where the money comes from.

mozilla sponsored tile

One revenue stream that Mozilla launched just a few days ago monetizes the new tab page of the browser. Most sites on the web reported that "ads are coming to Firefox" and while that is technically true, most sites blew this way out of proportion.

Here are the facts:

  1. Sponsored tiles are shown on Firefox's tab page if the browsing history gets deleted or on first start. Those get replaced by user sites automatically while the browser is being used.
  2. Some companies and sites may deliver enhanced tiles which simply replaces the thumbnail screenshot of a site a user visited in Firefox with a company selected one.
  3. Sponsored tiles are highlighted and clearly identifiable.
  4. The feature can be turned off by switching from Enhanced to Classic or Blank, or by changing what is displayed on the New Tab Page.
  5. Mozilla won't share personal information with publishers. All information shared with publishers are aggregated.

With that said, it is hurting Mozilla's reputation plenty. If you read the comments on sites that report about ads in Firefox, take Cnet for example, you will notice that the majority are negative. This is not that uncommon on the Internet and it is likely that at least some of the users are venting their frustration but won't really do anything about it.

The problem is that Mozilla is playing with the organization's reputation because of this. While it may earn revenue from the new format it may damage its reputation because of it and that's why it may not be worth it in the long run.

So what could Mozilla do instead?

One of the things that Mozilla could do is the following:

Ask for donations by holding a yearly fundraiser. Sites like Wikipedia hold yearly fundraisers and Mozilla could do the same. While it is already possible to donate to Mozilla, placing information about the option prominently on the main site would increase donations a lot.

I'm almost certain that Mozilla would earn more doing so and without sacrificing its reputation doing so.

Now You: What's your take on all of this?

Mozilla's new sponsored tiles revenue stream may not be worth it
Article Name
Mozilla's new sponsored tiles revenue stream may not be worth it
Why the revenue from the new sponsored tiles feature of the Firefox web browser may not be worth it for Mozilla in the long run, and what it could do instead.

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  1. Peder said on December 25, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Interesting. I was just reading some reasons for this: “Firefox bites the hand that feeds it” at
    It’s worth a peak.

  2. tekwyzrd said on December 16, 2014 at 5:55 am

    I would contribute regularly to Mozilla fundraisers IF they stopped implementing stupid changes that cripple firefox and actually listen to the opinions of the users rather than continuing their ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude.

  3. PGJU said on November 30, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Wow! Somebody is hating everyone this week.

  4. Long Term User said on November 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    The mention of negative reviews of the add tiles on Firefox on Cnet I have the response of so what? Yes they swallowed up Ziff Davis too in the greed of advertising and being a bigger fish. Does anyone remember the industry rag named LAN Times? It too succumbed to a bigger fish to become nothing.

    Anyone bothering to use or read anything on Cnet is being fooled by what is vs what CNET once was. Cnet or c(pipe)net is now a great place that directs you to download files that install adware on your PC and not give you what you wanted. It is not what it once was a place that gave legitimate reviews and links to software. It now seems to be swallowed by Ads with reviews being just ads. Its demise along with a lot of other fish eaten by bigger fish is an example of the destruction of what was the internet. Please see the wiki on what CNET was is now and the change of ownerships. Perhaps it has improved but I have not trusted it in years. Tom’s Hardware is another one.

    Like Netscape it died as it was swallowed up by bigger fish which Netscape should have I guess bargained with to survive. However this brings up the stupidity of the courts of the world on software and doing things like forcing a corporation to sell operating system without a browser included. Most debs (linux) now come with a browser built in or even tweaked for the user exactly implementing what the court orders say could not happen. Between the courts and the huge corporations both media and software that have grabbed at a part of it for ads or became a huge corporation at the center of something as simple as an internet search the internet has been largely dumbed down to point of its usefulness being much worse than it once was. Its really quite silly anymore with people posting their ignorant selves and lives on social media for all to see. Welcome to dumb and dumber internet ver 2.0. Thats what we will get while people argue about net neutrality and corporations vie for their part of the pie. Keep eating those hamburgers and using your cellphone to tweet like a twit and all will be good in the land of corporate greed.

  5. Long Term User said on November 30, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Who cares. The entire web of so much purposeful history gone down the drain to advertising mega sized Sears Roebuck want to be corporations that now are bigger than Sears and bid on contracts for the CIA for cloud space while pushing ads down the pipe clogging it up in the words of Hillary “what difference does it make?”.

    I doubt many FF users ever used Netscape including the version that an HTML editor built into it back when the internet and Microsoft newly embraced it after nearly 6 months of getting Bill G to do a 180 and include a browser.
    I doubt many of todays internet users ever heard the sound of a modem? They mostly get on FB via their cellphone. Or like twits posting tweets.

    The internet was not built to be destroyed with ads constantly pushing banners, Adobe Flash ads, and Black Friday deals at you. Some thing very simple in its use and purpose has gotten lost in the atrocious behavior of the do no evil corporate greed. I have used all 4 of the main contestants browsers out there and at times have found one or another better in some way. Firefox with the constant updated versions still often crashes. Instability seems to be expected. As far as Chrome goes I think that mega owner corporation has only one good product and they didn’t even build it. That being Google Earth which was initially created for the CIA use. The best thing they have is something they didn’t create but bought.

    Meanwhile they produce ad pushing and filtering to their benefit while whatever metrics they employ in their search engine constantly yields results much worse than search engines of the past did. If one looked for for a house for sale, Amazon which does not sell real estate yet I believe would popup in that search trying to sell you a house and lead you to household items. If you do a search for specific topic not well known but 20 years ago easily found when the internet was more academic you will probably get the same main corporations trying to sell you something else rather than find that actual topic. The whole thing has become advertising overload. The fact that browser has multiple main search engines to refer rather than actually search further is a travesty to the usefulness of it. It means you will get results from just those sources and nothing else without knowing where to look. Regardless of the crashing behavior of items like Macromedia Flash and the browser it has its massive Add-ons database to explore and use. Some which work well and some which will fail on updates or don’t work well. Finding some good addons can for some of us well increase the value of this free product.

    There is also the issue of adware toolbars and the behavior and inability to easily remove such horrible software as something like Babylon toolbar that should be more well protected in the security of the browser. One would hope they could make it more robust against such things trashing the browser. I do not know where they are at on that level if its improved or not. But obviously the amount of meta data that is collected from the users has exceeded even ad pushing. If ad push and social media is what 90 percent of the larger internet corporations do the battle is lost and the purpose of internet has been dumbed down to nothing but selling you hamburgers or cellphone plans.

  6. Taliesan said on November 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    We do run an annual fundraising campaign and will be doing it again this year. We actually do a fair amount of fundraising. It takes time to build a program to scale.

    Here’s an infographic of our success-to-date we published last year:

  7. KoCC said on November 18, 2014 at 3:46 am

    I think I’ve seen Firefox asking for donation like Wikipedia on the homepage. Just a small sentence like “if everyone donated 3$, we have to run fundraiser …”

  8. Ken Saunders said on November 17, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    “…Mozilla would lose more than 90% of its revenue over night. ”

    I know that you don’t honestly believe that.
    What company wouldn’t have several other offers in place just in case the one that they were negotiating a contract with didn’t decide to renew the deal or try to do so at a lower price that could be beaten by someone else.

    Besides, I seriously doubt that Google would throw away the hundreds of millions of potential ad-clickers and Google product users by not continuing to make a deal with Mozilla.

    For what it’s worth, Mozilla does a donation drive at the end of the year every year.

    As far as the sponsored titles, the negative hype is ridiculous.
    There are a lot of open source projects etc that use ads for revenue.
    The ads and the page itself can be removed, ignored or whatever.

  9. Rick said on November 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Type about:config in Firefox address bat and hit Enter. Here, search for


    preference and double-click on it to change its status to False.

    Sponsored tiles *POOF*

  10. Joe said on November 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm


    I don’t have a problem with the tiles. I would have a problem if I couldn’t turn them off — but I can. And some of them are actually useful.

    For instance, I didn’t know Firefox had an app builder until I clicked on one of the tiles. I’m sure you knew, but the average Firefox user?

    On another tile I found a link to a Net Neutrality petition:

    On the whole I find the tiles to be pretty benign.Also, the thing to remember about Firefox is that if it starts being insecure or the architecture starts becoming closed — THAT’S when its reputation will suffer.

  11. kalmly said on November 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Ya know, I don’t mind a bit.

    I us an ad-blocker, but in fact, I don’t mind ads. What I hate is animated ads and the only way I know to avoid them is to block all the advertising.

  12. fokka said on November 17, 2014 at 11:30 am

    i agree that the media blows the problem out of proportion. as you said, the ads are marked, they can be switched off and, as i understand it, disappear completely once you’ve vidited a hand full of different websites. i’m by no means a fan of advertisment, on the contrary, but even i don’t have a problem with this behaviour. to be honest, if it weren’t for media reports, i wouldn’t even know about the ads because i’ve switched the new tabs page to a blank page, and since people with a mile-long browsing history wouldn’t see much of those sponsored tiles either, i have no idea who would even see them at all? new users during their first browsing session? big f*** deal.

    that said, i don’t think it will bring all that much money for mozilla, but getting slightly less dependent on google is always good imho. i’d be in favour of a reoccuring fundraiser too . it might not cover all of the foundations expenses, but i think every bit counts and without being reminded i don’t think many people will have the idea to donate money to mozilla. i’m a big fan of firefox and i only donated once myself, so i should know. ;)

  13. Tom Hawack said on November 17, 2014 at 10:39 am

    The Internet runs on advertisement“. Indeed. The world cannot run without money, life is a give and take perpetual deal. The problem is not (no longer) agreeing with this evidence, but that of a fair play, that of margins, that of the opportunity cost : how much am I ready to pay for a service, a product, a good?

    One can argue that advertizement business is not in its actual form a fair deal : too much in quantity, too little in quality. Hence, if demagogy (which is a trend among those who believe they are spoiled in this trade) is set aside, remains the alternative no ads at all versus good, respectful advertizement and, generally speaking, a fair business philosophy : ethics in economics? Inevitable.

    From there on, if advertizement on the Web was as respectful of users as this new Mozilla practice is things would already work out much better. The point is so many users are so fed up with more, more and more ads, everywhere, that these users (and I’m one of them) can fall in the trap of NO negotiation, which is in terms of rationalism a point tied to hysteria rather than to intelligence. It is a counter-point to what seems to be the advertizement’s own hysteria : a battle rather than a dialogue.

    Finally, I’m not against Mozilla’s new advertizement practice should it remain in it’s actual form, including the opt-out feature. But, together with Martin, I do believe that fundraising would be nevertheless both a more profitable and a better public relation scheme than the choice of advertizement, whatever soft it may be.

  14. johnp said on November 17, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Jumping to conclusion based on cnet commenters might not be the best indicator. I don’t mind the ads on the dial page really. I could turn it off so no big deal. Also, making a browser might be a little more challenging than running an encyclopedia site. Coders need to eat too, and Mozilla needs a lot of them to maintain a browser.

  15. kktkkr said on November 17, 2014 at 10:33 am

    One major problem with holding a fundraiser is that the vast majority of Firefox users (and possibly of other products) do not visit their page often or regularly. The sponsored tiles provide revenue from within the browser, but I believe the main issue for a lot of users is that it defaults to on, and opting out may be more difficult for less tech-savvy users.

    The other complaint people may have is that Mozilla is “selling out” to companies, and pushing their products on Firefox users. While it is likely that Mozilla knows its demographic well enough to avoid messing up too badly, it may still seem scary that Mozilla has the power to do so from within the browser, even before the user visits a page.

    In short, Mozilla is throwing a significant portion of its huge Firefox userbase into an advertising experiment, and putting their reputation on the line for it. If they do succeed though, it may well change the status quo of online ads, and that is something I would really like to see happening.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 17, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      You don’t have to opt out as the sponsored tiles get replaced automatically by sites that you have visited.

      While I don’t have the figures, I’d estimate that the Mozilla homepage gets more hits per day than Firefox’s new tab page (that is in its default state).

  16. Tom W said on November 17, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I think this is one of those things where despite a vocal group against it, the majority of firefox users don’t care. Personally, I’ve replaced my new tab page with a custom one so it doesn’t effect me at all.

    1. ZzzZombi said on November 17, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Me too. New Tab Tools addon and a little bit of css pretty much make the best new tab page for me.

  17. anon said on November 17, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Is there still no easy way to add site manually to the speed dial? How many years would it take for all modern browsers to catch up to Opera 12? Ugh.

    1. Aragorn said on November 17, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Yes, there is. You can drag a link into the new tab page or click the “pin” button at the top left of an already existing tile.

  18. clubhouse said on November 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

    This is quite an interesting interview on how Mozilla is looking to the future….

    BBC Hardtalk:

    Stephen Sackur speaks to Mitchell Baker, a Silicon Valley pioneer and boss of the not-for-profit Mozilla Corporation, best known for the Firefox web browser…30mins…available for next 11 months…

  19. anon said on November 17, 2014 at 9:59 am

    The problem is, those urls that point to the thumbnail pictures most probably reach the sites they represent, and that can set cookies, etags, etc. to track users. As you said “Sponsored tiles are shown on Firefox’s tab page if the browsing history gets deleted”, thus the very method to get rid of most of the pesky tracking pieces puts some of it back right away.

    1. PGJU said on November 17, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      If these advertising tiles keep yet more connections and/or ports open on my network in the background at all times, then I am totally against this. If they are not active tiles until they are clicked on, and this does not sound likely based on the description above, then I am not too concerned about it. However, if there are also built in trackers attached to these tiles, I am again totally against it. As far as turning them off, how do we know all the attached connections and trackers, IF those exist, are truly off? Yes, I am paranoid, and no, I am not ashamed of being so. I like having total control of my online experience, and that stopped a long time ago.

      1. Tom Hawack said on November 17, 2014 at 8:41 pm

        Practically all external calls performed by Firefox itself (besides the extensions when applicable) have their url listed in about:config. Concerning the tiles Sören Hentzschel November 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm # above mentions the reference. To disable an url replace it by (nothing) or (I don’t know which is preferable).

        I ignore the active status of these tiles, I have no idea since I never open about:newtab nor about:home by the way.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on November 17, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      It depends on how the tiles are delivered. If they ship with Firefox, or if they are pulled from a Mozilla server, then the advertiser won’t get those additional information.

      It would be interesting to find out about that.

      1. Sören Hentzschel said on November 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm
        ( in about:config)

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on November 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm

        Thanks, that account is owned by Mozilla?

  20. Alex said on November 17, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Personally, I see this ads as something good to improve the independance from google

  21. Ray said on November 17, 2014 at 9:46 am

    I agree with Tarinedier. I have seen the new tab page and was a bit perplexed at first. However, you can still turn it off and there is no harm in having a few ads shoved at you. I think Firefox could diversify by asking more from other companies and put Bing for example as the preferred search engine. I still prefer Firefox to Chrome though; Chrome represents more a conduit for Google’s ads than any other thing.

  22. Tarinedier said on November 17, 2014 at 9:38 am

    While it is non-profit it is still a business, and yearly donation drives are extremely hard to run a business from. They need reliable and predictable income streams so that they can forecast and plan ahead.

    Personally I don’t see an issue with these ads. With the ability to turn them off if desired, there really is little ground to complain about them.

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