Mozilla plans to show sponsored content to Firefox users from the United States in Firefox 60. The organization plans to do so without sacrificing privacy and has published information and code already that highlights the data that Firefox collects.
If you look back a couple of years, you may remember that Mozilla tried to establish a new revenue stream in 2014 by introducing sponsored tiles in Firefox. Tiles referred to the default list of top sites that Firefox displays on the New Tab Page of the browser on new installations.
I did not think the revenue stream was sustainable or worth the man-hours that Mozilla put into it. Mozilla did drop sponsored tiles in 2015 but the idea to add a revenue stream to Firefox was not off the plate.
The read-it-later service Pocket announced in 2016 that it would show sponsored stories to free users of the service's integration in Firefox. Mozilla acquired Pocket in 2017 and revealed in early 2018 that Pocket might display sponsored content in Firefox.
Note: Sponsored stories are different from recommended stories. Sponsored stories are labeled as such, and the core difference is that Mozilla gets paid for sponsored stories whereas it does not get paid for recommended stories.
Tests on Beta and Nightly channels of Firefox ran for a couple of months already but the rollout to the stable channel in Firefox 60 will increase the reach of the advertisement significantly even if it is only active for users from the United States.
Mozilla promises that the integration of sponsored stories in Firefox 60 will not sacrifice user privacy or the quality of content.
The organization revealed that all the data crunching to select sponsored content is done on the client side and the only data that Mozilla collects is the impression count and the number of clicks that items receive aggregated.
We’ve come to accept a premise around advertising today that users need to trade their privacy and data in exchange for personalized, high quality experiences. Our experiments over the last few months have proved that this isn’t true.
We are indeed able to create personalized sponsored content that provides value to users without jeopardizing their privacy.
Firefox users have full control over the feature. They can disable sponsored content only or disable recommendations altogether.
Adding advertisement to Firefox, or any other browser for the matter, is a red flag for many users. Mozilla tries to find the right balance between adding a revenue stream to the browser and making sure that user privacy is not affected in a negative way.
Users are in full control as they may disable the feature; Mozilla promises that all processing happens on the client side which is definitely the right approach.
While I have no use for sponsored or recommended stories on the New Tab Page, part of Firefox's user base may find the feature useful.
I don't believe that Mozilla will generate lots of revenue out of this, however. I wish it would be different as it would reduce Mozilla's dependencies on other companies that pay it for integration of search engines in the browser. Most Firefox users would probably agree with the statement especially if it would mean that Mozilla could push native ad-blocking and other privacy features in the browser without having to worry about hitting its own revenue streams.
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