Mozilla drops Sponsored Tile advertisement in Firefox

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 5, 2015

Mozilla's VP of Content Services Darren Herrman announced yesterday on the official Mozilla Blog that the organization made the decision to discontinue Sponsored Tiles in the Firefox web browser.

The controversial feature was announced back in early 2014 and integrated into Nightly versions later that year.

It replaced some of the suggestions displayed on the New Tab Page of Firefox with sponsored entries, but only for new users or users who have deleted the browsing history (and so returned to the state where the New Tab Page is prepopulated with sites).

While the majority of Firefox users may have never been exposed to these tiles because of that, the backlash from the community was huge.

Sponsored Tile ads

That must have come as a surprise to the people responsible at Mozilla, especially since the organization implemented options to disable sponsored tiles in the browser and Mozilla's public statement that it would not share personal information with publishers.

My opinion back then was that the feature was not worth it, not from a revenue point of view but also not when you take into account the damage to Mozilla's reputation (they claim they fight for user privacy and now they display ads in Firefox? What's next?).

The move to end Sponsored Tile advertisements in Firefox is a logical consequence of that. Herrman makes no mention of why Mozilla decided to drop it, other than that "users want content that is relevant, exciting and engaging".

It is very likely that revenue played a major role in the decision, especially when weighted against the community's opinion on the feature and the reaction of the press.

That does not mean that things will go back to normal though. Apparently, Mozilla wants to focus on "content discovery"  in the future instead.

We have therefore made the decision to stop advertising in Firefox through the Tiles experiment in order to focus on content discovery.

It is likely that Suggested Sites, another type of tiles that may show up on the New Tab Page, fall into that category.

Mozilla never revealed how Firefox picked the suggestions. The most likely explanation is that it uses the same technology that the experimental Personal Interest Dashboard add-on is using.

To sum it up: Sponsored Tiles are removed from Firefox once all booked campaigns run out. Mozilla wants to concentrate on content discovery instead making it likely that we are going to see new additions to that in future Firefox versions. Whether that will be like Opera's Discovery feature or something completely different is still unclear.

Now You: Have you seen sponsored tiles in Firefox since the introduction in the browser?

Mozilla drops Sponsored Tile advertisement in Firefox
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Mozilla drops Sponsored Tile advertisement in Firefox
Mozilla announced yesterday that it made the decision to discontinue all Sponsored Tile advertisement in the Firefox web browser.

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  1. Nobody said on December 5, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    information about, history, bookmarks and other like geo-location was sent to Mozilla server then json data sent back of what ads to show in about:newtab that is how it worked its that information Mozilla said they wouldn’t share with advertisers.

    every time you hovered or clicked a sponsored tile telemetry data was sent to mozilla as well.

  2. Earl said on December 5, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    As you say, probably not enough revenue to offset the “OMG!” response from n00bs (who can’t figure out how to disable it, even with all of the helpful websites telling them how). I always turned off the feature even before they added the “ads”.

    The thing is, though, this is the best kind of advertising–on a page all to its own, one that you never even have to see unless you want to, meaning ads you never have to see if you don’t want to (and users are stupid enough to complain about it–get a grip).

    Mozilla’s problem isn’t “ads”. It’s where they want to take Firefox “internals” (down the drain with regard to users who want to do any really useful customization–what Firefox was built-up on over the past decade).

  3. RottenScoundrel said on December 5, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Damn, with Palemoon, I have been missing out on all these great promotional ads. I feel cheated. Just when I thought I might try FFx again, they say they are going to remove the ads. Oh, well, I guess I can stay with Palemoon until the next round of Mozilla madness. They are good at sly-things for money in their Pocket, (pun intended) so why would they stop here?

  4. Jeff said on December 5, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    “Have you seen sponsored tiles in Firefox since the introduction in the browser?”

    No, because mine is set to show a blank page.

    1. Pants said on December 5, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      Yeah .. it never happened … the urls to get all that marketing junk were wiped in about:config from day one .. among other changes

  5. Tom Hawack said on December 5, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Whatever about:newtab includes, be it sponsored or suggested sites, there is a Mozilla fixation on this about:newtab.
    The inability since Firefox 42, unless using a dedicated add-on, to choose another address for browser.newtab.url than about:newtab has been set for security reasons according to Mozilla. There’s more to it than that : why not provide the option to set browser.newtab.url to about:home ? about:home is a Firefox page, no security involved here.

    Now, with a dedicated add-on (for instance ‘Classic Theme Restorer’ which performs far much more than that) whatever url you choose for browser.newtab.url (I’ve set it to about:home) the about:newtab will always appear very quickly as the new tab’s title, which means that in the code there is no bypassing of this page possible, the page appears and instantly is replaced by what the dedicated add-on has set it to.

    I’m assuming this about:newtab is vital for Mozilla ever since they’ve included it. It’s a pivot for the browser. And this is, as far as I’m concerned, a pain in the neck. Some users just DO NOT WANT TO BE FORCED TO ACCEPT ALL MOZILLA’S FANTASIES. Mozilla, please get your minds straight and your code accordingly. We understand that your present policy is to focus on privacy, well then extrapolate if you please and consider the users’ liberty as corollary.

  6. Ek said on December 5, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Much conflict of interests in the firefox team, I don’t think that level of rotten can be fixed, can it?

    I mean this includes someone involved with getting acceptable ads through ad blockers, another who worked with the NSA to weaken cryptography.. arguing against closing tracking vulnerabilities.

    Or how about this exchange:

    ..where developers convince themselves its a good idea to store telemetry on your machine ‘just in case its needed’ when the end user has it turned off?

    I think its a whole desperate situation and they need to act fast and thoroughly to reverse it.

  7. not_black said on December 5, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Firefox is

    K I L L

  8. Nebulus said on December 5, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Maybe I should go back and check the comments that were telling us, “haters”, that sponsored tiles is a gift from God and the only way forward for Firefox, and that there is no privacy risk and that, generally, everything is great in Mozilla-land…

  9. Lestat said on December 5, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Ok, after reading this Mozilla blog article, to sum up what i have read… the usual “political correct talk” – Submit bad news with tons of words which say more or less nothing and still give the reader somewhat a good feeling.

    So, Mozilla tried to get advertisers, but they have shown not much interest in advertising in Firefox. Well, what do you expect from a browser with a shrinking market share? If Google would have done the same with Chrome, the new tabs would be already filled with tons of advertisers.

    That happens if you make yourself less of appealing towards potential customers in the way that you damage yourself which makes tons of users switch away. Always a nice tactic, Well done!

  10. Joker said on December 5, 2015 at 10:25 am

    More interesting is the next paragraph:

    “Advertising in Firefox could be a great business, but it isn’t the right business for us at this time because we want to focus on core experiences for our users. We want to reimagine content experiences and content discovery in our products. We will do this work as a fully integrated part of the Firefox team.”

    Advertising (“content”) becomes an “integrated part of the Firefox team”.

    And the last paragraph is finest buzzword-bingo.

    In related news: Mozilla started its annual donation drive. Please donate plenty so the Firefox team can work on “relevant, exciting and engaging” ways of presenting “content”.

    Excellent news: Darren Herrman, Mozilla’s VP of Content Services (aka Ads) left Mozilla:

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