Mozilla wants to combat Notification Spam in Firefox

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 2, 2019

Most modern web browsers support push notifications; websites may request to send notifications to the browser, e.g. when a new blog post is published or updates are available. Users need to accept these notifications before sites may use the system.

While that sounds good on paper, it quickly led to sites throwing notification permission requests at users as soon as they opened them; this happened on sites visited regularly but also on first visit.

Mozilla introduced a feature in Firefox 59 to block all notifications requests in Firefox and to control them on a per-site basis, and Google offered something similar in Chrome since 2016.

The organization announced yesterday that it plans to run tests to better understand notifications and reduce notification permission prompt spam in Firefox. Mozilla promised to do something about in-page popups in Firefox as well in 2018.

firefox 59 block notifications

Data provided by Mozilla shows that the vast majority of notification prompts get declined and dismissed. In the period between December 25, 2018 and January 24, 2019, Firefox Beta users were shown 18 million notification prompts. Only 3% of these were accepted by users while 19% caused users to leave the site immediately.

Mozilla concluded that some sites would show the permission prompt for notifications too early and some that were not interested in improving the user experience through the use of notifications.

Two notification experiments

Mozilla plans to run two notification experiments in Firefox to collect data and base decisions on how to proceed with notifications in Firefox on the analysis of the collected data.

The first experiment runs in Firefox 68 Nightly from April 1st to April 29th 2019:

  • First two weeks: Firefox won't show notifications if user interaction did not precede it.
  • Last two weeks: Firefox will show an animated icon in the address bar if a notification was suppressed by the browser.

The second experiment uses Telemetry to better understand notification prompts. Mozilla wants to collect data about "circumstances in which users interact with permission prompts" including the time on site and the number of rejections. The data collecting will happen on Firefox's release channel and "will run for a limited time, with a small percentage of our release user population".

Firefox users who don't want to participate in studies can disable study participation and data collecting in the settings:

  1. Load about:preferences#privacy in the browser's address bar.
  2. Scroll down to the "Firefox Data Collection and Use" section.
  3. Uncheck "Allow Firefox to install and run studies" to block Shield studies.

Closing Words

Depending on where you go on the Web, you may never see notification permission prompts or may be bombarded by them. I turned off notifications in browsers that support it as I don't require these at all and don't want to be constantly annoyed.

The best course of action, in my opinion, is to block sites from throwing prompts at users the second the site gets opened in the browser. Firefox displaying an icon in the address bar to indicate that there is a request is fine as well.

Now You: What is your take on notifications? Have you accepted any?

Mozilla wants to combat Notification Spam in Firefox
Article Name
Mozilla wants to combat Notification Spam in Firefox
Mozilla plans to run two experiments in Firefox in April 2019 to address the growing issue of notification prompt spam on the Internet.
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  1. John IL said on April 4, 2019 at 1:26 am

    I typically disable all notifications if I can in a browser. Don’t find them useful at all and I am already overwhelmed with notifications on my smartphone already. Seems like every web site, app, and OS wants to send you notifications these days by default. Who really thought this was a great ideal??

  2. MartinFan said on April 3, 2019 at 6:53 am

    Malwarebytes had a blog on push notifications called “Browser push notifications: a feature asking to be abused”.

    I just find it to be another useless feature that’s forced on to the user. If only they would make these features as add-ons and let the user decide if he/she wants it.

  3. Farmers said on April 3, 2019 at 1:45 am

    Since the prompt for these alone is quite annoying, I always decline these when prompted. Since I found out how, I have also blocked them permanently in Firefox.

  4. ULBoom said on April 2, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    Notifications have been disabled in FF since I first saw one. Same with Windows, Chromium and every piece of software I have except for updates of things I want always updated, video and photo editors and email.

    The studies mentioned are fine; they only happen with users who are currently allowing notifications. The first study, waiting until a user does something on a page before a notification may not be perceived as different from displaying a notification as soon as the page opens. Interesting to see the results.

  5. agsdaf said on April 2, 2019 at 11:31 pm

    Aaah… M0zilla features.

  6. Allwynd said on April 2, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    As soon as I realized I could disable notifications altogether, I started doing it before I even load the first URL. I also disable Flash, Camera, Microphone and Location (if that even does anything).

    I really hate how despite disabling location, using Google Search in a private window defaults it to my location’s language and doesn’t keep it in English regardless… pretty annoying.

  7. John Fenderson said on April 2, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    “What is your take on notifications? Have you accepted any?”

    No. I’m not opposed to them on principle or anything, but I certainly don’t want any that aren’t useful to me — and I haven’t seen any that are useful to me.

  8. Herman said on April 2, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t really care about the notification message as it pops up. I know that I will never accept any information or take seriously anything the site wants to tell me via this medium. Secondly, all cookies and related data are purged immediately upon my exiting the browser anyway so what good will it do them?

  9. WorknMan said on April 2, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    I wonder who at Mozilla thought that popup nag was a good idea in the first place? I mean, WTF did they think was going to happen? It was probably the same jackhole who decided users shouldn’t be allowed to block auto playing videos without sound.

    1. Anonymous said on April 3, 2019 at 4:03 am

      “I wonder who at Mozilla thought that popup nag was a good idea in the first place?”

      It was Google & Microsoft’s initiative.

    2. Anonymous said on April 2, 2019 at 8:51 pm

      “I wonder who at Mozilla thought that popup nag was a good idea in the first place? I mean, WTF did they think was going to happen?”

      I guess that Google services need it, Chrome says it’s a standard, Mozilla follows it… The usual story.

  10. Tom Hawack said on April 2, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    I’ve disabled Firefox notifications ever since they were launched.
    The settings mentioned in the ghacks’ article linked above (‘Firefox 59 to block all notifications requests in Firefox’) have been active accordingly:

    dom.webnotifications.enabled : false
    media.navigator.enabled : false
    media.peerconnection.enabled : false
    geo.enabled : false

    Once again we have a nice feature which is problematic in regard to the way it is used by several websites, hence Mozilla’s plan to try to reduce the side effects. Personally missing the best on the ground of avoiding the worst, if never a way of life nevertheless became progressively a way of surfing on the Web, and that means, IMO, accepting browsers’ new features *only* when there is no possible side-effect, which is less and less the case.

  11. ilev said on April 2, 2019 at 10:53 am

    50 years in IT and never saw a web notification request/push notifications.

    1. Anonymous said on April 3, 2019 at 6:03 pm

      are you living in cave?

  12. Aegis said on April 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

    I disable notifications completely since I don’t need them.

  13. Steve said on April 2, 2019 at 9:04 am

    Maybe it is me but every feature added and nearly not used is just a potential security problem. I understand innovation is needed to keep the ball rolling but between phone notifications, SMS alerts, RSS feeds, and such, it’s madness. I prefer Mozilla developers to focus on web compatibility, browser security, speed and lighter footprint.

  14. Gabriel said on April 2, 2019 at 7:19 am

    I’m with you, Martin.
    I hate them. I cancel them as soon as I see them.

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