Firefox to display extension recommendations - gHacks Tech News

Firefox to display extension recommendations

Mozilla tests a new feature in Firefox Nightly at the moment that suggests extensions to users when they visit certain sites on the Internet.

The recommendation feature is turned off by default and needs to be enabled at this point. Extensions may increase the user experience on sites they are designed for, for example by blocking advertisement, enhancing search functionality, or improving privacy.

Firefox users who have used the Nightly version of the web browser for years may remember that Mozilla ran a Test Pilot Study four years ago that displayed extension recommendations to users as well. The study recommended extensions and features of Firefox to the user but it never made it into the web browser and was moved to the graveyard as a consequence.

Disabling the feature

firefox recommend extensions

Mozilla plans to implement a new option in the Firefox preferences to toggle the recommendation functionality.

  1. Load about:preferences#general in the browser's address bar.
  2. Scroll down to the Browsing section; it is near the bottom of the page.
  3. Toggle "Recommend extensions as you browse" to turn the functionality off or on.

Firefox Extension Recommendations

firefox recommended extensions

Firefox displays "recommendation" and a puzzle icon in the browser's address bar when users visit a site that has an extension associated with it.  Recommendation is removed automatically after some time but the puzzle icon remains visible in the interface.

It is unclear how recommended extensions are selected by Mozilla and whether they are reviewed thoroughly before they are suggested in the browser. Mozilla did recommend a privacy extension with privacy issues on the official blog recently; a mistake like this would be far more problematic as the recommendation feature would certainly have a higher reach if enabled on the browser's release channel.

Recommendations are not only based on extension ratings as Mozilla recommended the Amazon Assistant extension on Amazon and that extension has a rating of just three stars (out of five) currently. It is the official Amazon extension, however, and it is likely that this was the deciding factor in selecting it as a recommendation.

A click on the puzzle icon displays a small overlay that resembles the add-on installation dialog of the Firefox browser. The overlay displays the extension name and author, a short description, a read more link, the rating and number of users.

Firefox users have options to select "add now" or "not now" at this point in time. Add now starts the extension installation process of the browser.

Firefox displays another prompt that lists the permissions that the extension requests and options to add it to the browser or cancel the process.

firefox add extension

The recommendation feature is limited to certain high profile sites at the time of writing. Supported sites include YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Reddit, and Gmail at this point.

Mockups show that Mozilla might also recommended an ad-blocker, Adblock Plus is shown, to users of the web browser.

Turn add-on recommendations on or off in Firefox

Recommendations are powered by a preference. It is possible that Mozilla will add a setting to Firefox's options to give users easier control over the functionality.

  1. Load about:config?filter=browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.asrouterExperimentEnabled in the Firefox address bar.
  2. Confirm that you will be careful.
  3. Double-click on the preference name to toggle its value.
  4. Restart Firefox.

A value of True means that Firefox will display extension recommendations, a value of false that it won't do that.

Closing Words and outlook

The functionality is being tested right now and that means that there is a chance that the feature won't land in Firefox after all. Mozilla needs to address privacy concerns that users may have; best case is that the list of recommended extensions is maintained on the local device and updated regularly by Mozilla.

Firefox would then check against the list and display suggestions whenever a user visits a matching site. The feature needs a "turn off" button in the UI in my opinion and maybe also a report feature.

Probably the biggest hurdle is that Mozilla needs to make sure that it recommends only pristine extensions that don't violate user privacy, don't impact performance, don't introduce bugs or other issues.

Recommendations are mostly useful to users who don't use add-ons at all -- almost 60% according to Mozilla's Public Data Report -- and to users who have just one or two add-ons installed.

Update: Mozilla published a Help page on the Mozilla Support website that offers additional information about the feature.

It states that extensions may be recommended based on user activity, and that Mozilla does not store or collect the browsing history.

We might occasionally recommend extensions based on websites you visit or ways you engage with the browser. Mozilla does not collect or store your browsing history to make those recommendations. Recommendations are designed to introduce Firefox users to noteworthy extensions.

Extensions are selected "through a thorough editorial and review process" so that only "exceptional extensions that are hand-selected by Mozilla's editorial team" are suggested to Firefox users.

Mozilla states that it does not receive compensation for the listings and that it does not accept payments of any kind to add extensions in the recommendation program.

Now You: would you like to see extension recommendations in Firefox? (via Techdows)

Summary
Firefox to display extension recommendations
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Firefox to display extension recommendations
Description
Mozilla tests a new feature in Firefox Nightly at the moment that suggests extensions to users when they visit certain sites on the Internet.
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Ghacks Technology News
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Comments

  1. Aegis said on September 4, 2018 at 8:29 am
    Reply

    Somehow I think Mozilla likes to demolish the trust they gained again since the release of FX57. They make one “feature” of the other that no one wants or needs. They should focus on increasing performance and such things and not in blowing up the source code with useless stuff.

    1. user said on September 4, 2018 at 12:27 pm
      Reply

      I think alike. I have slowly lost confidence and faith in Mozilla. Meanwhile I regularly choked off more and more “features” by means of user.js.

    2. Chronius said on September 4, 2018 at 12:33 pm
      Reply

      Exactly my thoughts, they won’t gain more users by adding more useless stuff.

    3. Robert Ab said on September 4, 2018 at 5:06 pm
      Reply

      Exactly. They should also speed up work with WebExtension APIs. A lot of great add-ons or their replacements are still not working as they should.

  2. noemata said on September 4, 2018 at 10:56 am
    Reply

    the fewer addons the better; to seduce the users now even more to blow up the browser is simply bullshit @mozilla. not to forget, the insane trend to define the browser exclusively by its addons instead of defining the browser by the browser itself is thus even more strongly enforced.

    i don’t read any news (nowhere) for a few days now, the internet remains off, nonsense has taken over lately (everywhere).

    1. Robert Ab said on September 4, 2018 at 5:07 pm
      Reply

      Mozilla will be recommending extensions, and after few years they will kill most of them again. Yeah, I can see the sense of this action here :)

      1. noemata said on September 5, 2018 at 10:39 am
        Reply

        next day, next madness: https://www.zdnet.com/article/mega-nz-chrome-extension-caught-stealing-passwords-cryptocurrency-private-keys/ . it’s chrome, could be firefox too. addons.

        addons are not the browser. addons are an additional security risk. addons are an additional performance risk.

        on the other hand, the eternal whining that old addons are fired due to the development of the browser (since firefox quantum times): (most) addons are not programmed by mozilla. (most) addons are programmed by the corresponding addon – developer. if THE BROWSER MUST be fundamentally (in it’s core) changed in order to remain competitive, then one cannot take into account an (in this context) outdated/incompatible old addon – ecosystem.

        it would have been insane to abandon the further development of the BROWSER itself due to some addon – addicts.

        if one is missing an addon, contact its developer. mozilla has nothing to do with it; they are responsible for the BROWSER itself and that should remain so and they should concentrate on that and on the potential dangers and impairments of an addon ecosystem.

    2. John Fenderson said on September 4, 2018 at 8:26 pm
      Reply

      @noemata: “the fewer addons the better”

      The problem is that addons are (or were, before they were neutered) the only effective way of making the browser great for you (as everyone has a different idea of what “great” actually looks like).

      The new Firefox is not great for me in many, many ways that used to be fixable, but are no longer. This is keeping me from using Quantum as my daily driver.

      1. noemata said on September 5, 2018 at 11:42 am
        Reply

        @john & co.:

        ff62 beta: i have 4 addons: i don’t care about cookies, in my pocket (+ pocket in ff disabled), popoup blocker ulitmate (unfortunately still necessary in ff) & mwb – browser – extension beta (only 2 options on).

        that’s all; + firefox options itself (e.g. also for cookie/site data handling = cookies/site data disabled by default + _minimal_ whitelist per view page info) + _balanced_ user.confi. of course still an anti-executable on the system/windows itself _and so on and so forth_ (on the system/windows itself – and also not exaggerated)

        addons which (only in different variants) would do the same would actually extinguish each other, one would live in a reasonable world. but we don’t.

        typical addict: “oh, and of course have umatrix + ublock + the the firefox disconnect.me list strict enabled + adguard blocker + privacy possum + container addons (instead of one, simple config change in ff) and of course, decentraleyes (yes you _need_ this, as well as all the rest, as an “_additional security layer”_ et cetera)”.

        i call those “additional security layer” browser-addon-thing = insane, exteme, irrationally in the garment of rationality.

        and of course you also need things like a “video downloader” _and so on_, instead of using external apps or just various pages on the net.

        main thing is to blow up the browser. _the more, the better. the maxime of our times._ the browser as: egg-laying-wool-milk-pig.

        professional computer specialists resp. people in it – industry, that’s something completely different (it seems at least). of course they need all kinds of tools. but I go out from the normal user; so the majority of the people who hang around here in the forum.

        and – it’s only a _browser_ and should remain so.

      2. Tom Hawack said on September 5, 2018 at 12:22 pm
        Reply

        @noemata, if I may have my word on this I’d just say that there are IMO basically two categories of tools (be they plug-ins, extensions in this scenario), those which concern privacy & security (both are too often tied to separate them) and those bringing an extra layer, not of privacy/security but of comfort : uMatrix, uBlock, Decentraleyes and several worthy extensions are not in the same category as video downloaders, i.e

        I also believe there is no hard-coded rules : what suits one user may not suit another, of course.

        I agree with you concerning the invasion of “comfort” extensions : they flourish everywhere. Many follow the user not to mention that doing so may — or may not — have a privacy issue: extensions are removed accordingly from Mozilla and Chrome servers, sometimes too late after the damage. Many as well, even healthy/no home phoning, perform what could be easily done with a browser’s built-in functionalities (not always of course), or with a bookmarklet, or with simply a 2/3 step operation instead of a 1-click button facility. With that I entirely agree.

        Remains the essential target of privacy & security extensions. There are many to choose from, with caution given the fact an extension presenting itself as a privacy/security defender may appear later on to be the opposite. But there are a certain number of widely used/acclaimed extensions which are more, IMO, than an “extra layer of security (privacy)”. From there on all depends of the user’s idea of a browser, can/should he rely on the browser’s configuration “out of the box”? Not in terms of privacy, IMO, even if browsers focus increasingly on strict security issues. Some users believe or wish to believe or have no other choice than to believe that a browser “out of the box” should be and actually fills 100% of privacy & security requirements, they rely on the builder and because they rely those builders start doing what techies only previously did (for themselves and/or as extensions), they take into consideration the amount, wide majority of users who rely on them to surf peacefully or at least in a secure environment. My opinion nevertheless is that browser builders still don’t go far enough in their privacy/security awareness (not to mention that privacy when it comes to telemetry is not tracking in the opinion of browser developers).

        So I’d say, think twice before installing a “comfort” extension and choose correctly a privacy/security extension (don’t jump on the first “adblocker” or “uBlock” denominated extensions of which many may be but a forgery of the originals. Be cautious indeed with extensions, inform yourself, compare… but let this not blind us to what virtue there is in maybe two handfuls of worthy extensions proven to be healthy and efficient.

      3. John Fenderson said on September 5, 2018 at 9:54 pm
        Reply

        @noemata: “that’s all; + firefox options itself”

        That’s awesome, and I’m happy that it works so well for you. Your setup would not work well for me, though.

        And there’s the rub — there isn’t a “one size fits all” here. What’s great for you may not be sufficient for me, and vice versa.

      4. noemata said on September 6, 2018 at 9:49 am
        Reply

        @ john & tom

        i do not make a general claim to my statements, not an all-quant. i only describe my “system” in order to become more general afterwards and to get to the point that matters (for me).

        i only appeal to common sense; everybody can do what he wants. but there is a reason why almost every (so called) hardcore – techie (which i am certainly not) needs his “steve jobs – archetype” (_which i am certainly not_).

        otherwise _some_ of this guild won’t see the forest for the trees (and i still notice that a lot, after all). _simplicity_ (nevertheless optimal functionality) that’s what you have to hold against most techies over and over again. because they (naturally?) tend to … you know (?). you know.

        i’m not saying either:” this addon is better than this”. that’s not the point.

        have a nice day j & t

  3. Anonymous said on September 4, 2018 at 11:21 am
    Reply

    Assuming this is done locally…
    Are they trying to blur the lines between genuine browsing-based recommendations and the paid targeted advertising they are doing also by locally data mining browsing history ?

    1. John Fenderson said on September 5, 2018 at 10:27 pm
      Reply

      @Anonymous: “trying to blur the lines between genuine browsing-based recommendations and the paid targeted advertising they are doing”

      Probably not.

      That said, an advertisement is an advertisement, whether they’re locally-generated “recommendations” or paid for by others. I don’t really object to Mozilla’s new fetish for recommending things, as long as all those recommendations can be disabled.

  4. user17843 said on September 4, 2018 at 11:53 am
    Reply

    This isn’t a bad idea.

    It blurs the boundary between extension developers and firefox though.

    That’s why I think it would be ideal for Firefox to

    – come pre-loaded with a selective list of extensions which can be activated on a welcome-screen after install
    – work together with the devs in some way to ensure stability and maybe compensate them
    – have a local list that recommends these pre-installed but not yet activated extensions to users when they browse certain websites

  5. Tom Hawack said on September 4, 2018 at 12:23 pm
    Reply

    I dislike and avoid whatever extension which follows the user otherwise than with a local database *or* without the user’s request, which means calling a dedicated server on every page/site visited by the user. These extensions flourish nowadays. A simple utility such as providing a site’s IP : you have extensions which provide it by retrieving it from a server systematically, others which phone to their servers when the user asks for it, others which have the database included in the extension. I’m OK with an extension retrieving the information *when* I ask for it, not systematically. I can’t bear the “assistant”, “your personal assistance” approach. “If I need you I’ll call you, thanks for your help but keep out of my legs otherwise” is my state of mind.

  6. Weilan said on September 4, 2018 at 3:08 pm
    Reply

    I think it’s paradoxal how they strip the browser of useful features and bloat it with garbage nobody cares about. I was a big Firefox fan and supporter before Firefox 4, then my hopes were getting restored when I heard about Firefox 57, despite the fact that they decided to remove addon support, but after I saw how they made the browser less and less customizable, I don’t care about it anymore.

    They can go crash and burn for all I care.

  7. pHROZEN gHOST said on September 4, 2018 at 3:30 pm
    Reply

    This could come back on Mozilla in a VERY bad way … if they go ahead with it.

    Most readers know that Mozilla stopped doing a thorough examination of extensions quite some time ago. That resulted in numerous bad extensions accumulating on their addons site.

    At some point Mozilla could recommend something that is bad at the time (or it goes bad later on with a subsequent update).

    Mozilla seems to be driving nails into its own coffin.

    1. Stan said on September 5, 2018 at 7:28 am
      Reply

      No need to worry about Firefox security anymore, Mozilla have hired a nice chap from Google.

      https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/04/mozilla-hires-former-google-executive-as-its-new-policy-and-security-chief/

      What could possibly go wrong?

      1. Anonymous said on September 6, 2018 at 8:41 am
        Reply

        What could possibly go wrong?

        The worried grimace of the woman beside.

  8. Yuliya said on September 4, 2018 at 4:24 pm
    Reply

    They first need to know the site you’re on to show you a “relevant” addon, right?
    mozilla.. privacy.. yeah, no, lol

    1. John Fenderson said on September 5, 2018 at 10:29 pm
      Reply

      @Yuliya

      Depends on who you mean by “they”. If Mozilla is doing this like they’re doing several other recommendation features, then the browser itself is the one making the recommendations, and your browsing history is not sent outside of your own machine for this purpose.

      So, they may be annoying, but they’re aren’t actually invading your privacy.

  9. Charlie said on September 4, 2018 at 4:44 pm
    Reply

    Just for kicks I pasted
    “about:config?filter=browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.asrouterExperimentEnabled”
    into my Firefox 61.0.2 GA copy of the browser and set the value to “true” and then recycled Firefox and went to youtube.
    Didn’t do anything new, so I set the value back to “false”

  10. Emanon said on September 4, 2018 at 7:52 pm
    Reply

    Great.. We always wanted ads in the browser itself /s

  11. Stan said on September 5, 2018 at 7:39 am
    Reply

    Firefox is becoming Mozilla’s E-meter?

  12. Jozsef said on September 5, 2018 at 10:10 am
    Reply

    After starting with Netscape Navigator, my trust in them is finally gone. The last straw was the decision to stop checking extensions before listing them. To then issue recommendations without any verification only proved that there is an entirely new crew running Mozilla now and the Firefox we knew, loved and trusted no longer exists. I still install it for people with just Ublock Origin (alongside Vivaldi) but they no longer get a speech from me about how great Firefox is.

    I still use the old Pale Moon 26.5 for a specific functionality, which of course fails on more and more sites now and current Vivaldi. Of course, trusting and using the Google extension repository is the Achilles heel of Vivaldi as I see it. Might add FF 62 ESR for a while and then just see what the future brings.

  13. Jozsef said on September 5, 2018 at 10:14 am
    Reply

    Good heavens, I just wrote about possibly installing FF 62 ESR! Of course I meant 52 ESR. It’s never good to compose anything in the middle of the night. ;)

  14. ipononymous said on September 6, 2018 at 4:53 am
    Reply

    *cough* … rolling eyes

  15. Tom Hawack said on October 29, 2018 at 5:50 pm
    Reply

    Quoting the article,
    “Update: Mozilla published a Help page on the Mozilla Support website […] [stating] that extensions may be recommended based on user activity, and that Mozilla does not store or collect the browsing history.”

    Assuming this is true I still don’t know if disabling the planned feature with ‘browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.asrouterExperimentEnabled’ = false will prevent the user from being followed by Mozilla. What happens (“will” happen) if the user sets the feature to ‘true’, how will Mozilla track the visited Website, will the feature call a Mozilla server or will there be a downloaded local file such as Firefox’s blocklists? If a Mozilla server is called will this call be disabled once the setting is disabled? I’d bet we’ll discover a specific url in about:config and Pants’ Ghacks-user.js file will then propose to set that url to “” …

    Anyway one thing is sure here, I certainly won’t use this feature. As a rule i avoid whatever Webextension which follows the user for the sake of providing immediate information. But if the extension activates on the user’s demand only, then fine. Should Mozilla deploy its planned ‘extension recommendation’ this way that I could be interested, not otherwise.

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