Mozilla experiment to pollute what advertisers know about you

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 26, 2019
Updated • Jun 26, 2019

Mozilla launched Track This today, an experiment to pollute what advertisers know about you by opening a large number of unrelated sites on the Internet.

The basic idea behind Track This is not new: open unrelated websites in your browser of choice to dilute your advertising profile. Some extensions, e.g. AdNauseam, try to trick advertising companies as well.

Advertisers use information about visited webpages, searches, and other interactions to create user profiles that are used for advertising. The more data an advertiser can get their hands on, the more accurate the profile that is created.

Mozilla's Track This experiment loads 100 different websites in browser tabs to add data to the profile that is unrelated to a user's interests.

There are three caveats: first, that Track This works best if no content-blocking tools are used, second, that users who run the experiment will get unrelated advertisement, a man may get advertisement that is targeting women, and vice versa, and third, that the effectiveness depends on the advertising and tracking services that the selected 100 sites use.

The whole thing does not help you if the sites that you visit regularly use different advertising providers.

Mozilla recommends that users make sure that work is saved before they run the Track This experiment. Opening a new browser is not the best of advice considering that advertisement profiles are usually browser-linked as there are only a few methods to create cross-browser profiles.

The experiment should work in all modern browsers.

Track This comes with four profiles that are linked to 100 sites each. The available profiles are Hyperbeast, Filthy Rich, Doomsday, or Influencer. A click on any opens a warning page that reminds you that 100 tabs will be opened in the browser when the button is activated.

The 100 sites are opened in different tabs when you confirm the procedure. You need to close these manually after they have been opened, or may use features such as "close tabs to the right or left" when right-clicking on a tab in the tab bar. Not all browsers support these, but they speed up the tab closing process.

Advertisers should pick up these new sites and add them to the profile. You will start to see new advertisement that is based on the theme of the opened sites going forward.

Mozilla improved Firefox's Tracking Protection feature recently, and plans to improve it further in the near future.

Closing Words

I'm not too enthusiastic about Mozilla's Track This project. While it may dilute your advertising profile, it is not addressing the underlying issue of being tracked without consent on the Internet. It is probably only a matter of days before advertisers start to filter out these domains if they notice a large number of them to take the experiment into account.

Now You: What is your take on Take This?

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Mozilla experiment to pollute what advertisers know about you
Mozilla launched Track This today, an experiment to pollute what advertisers know about you by opening a large number of unrelated sites on the Internet.
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  1. Anonymous said on June 27, 2019 at 11:24 pm

    The underlying idea is not bad, needs refinement although. Why not running a background application that is executing some random web search during the idle time? That should be enough to randomize the profile and no need to close any tabs…

  2. Fred said on June 27, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    There was a similar project aimed to pollute googles search and possibly isp logs. I think it was called trackmenot, an addon that would initate a google search chosen from a dictionary of words.

  3. lurks about said on June 27, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    As a solution, I think this is a best quarter-baked. Ad blocking and proper use of privacy settings is preferred. If a site refuses to play with my normal browser I tend to use Tor just to be ornery.

  4. clas said on June 27, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    so if you have a vpn, does that not put a halt to tracking? i have been using one for a month and find it unobtrusive, easy, automatic, one clik to turn on or off…and slows me down just a tiny bit.

  5. TelV said on June 27, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    My own solution to this conundrum is to create a dedicated profile for instances where a given site won’t work unless users allow all forms of tracking. I discovered this myself while trying to watch the Women’s World Cup matches on which is the Dutch default news site. They broadcast all the matches live and all you need to do is to click the link to the live stream on the sports page. But try enabling your adblocker or just using session cookies and you’ll be presented with the message that the video can’t be played as shown here: Consequently I missed the last Netherlands vs Japan game last night even though previous matches could be watched without a problem.

    However, I managed to find a means of watching the match on albeit no longer live. But once again any form of circumventing ads results in a similar message. Here’s what you have to agree to if you want to watch anything at all on that site regardless of whether or not you’re paying a subscription fee:

    The first option is to agree to social media cookies which will subsequently follow you wherever you go. The second one is to agree to being bombarded with personalised ads based on what you do on the site and elsewhere on the web.

    So like I mentioned in the beginning I just created a new profile without any extensions or adblockers, but enabled the option to clear cache, cookies, history etc., on shutdown. After that I switch back to my normal profile which contains all manner of anti-tracking features. Easiest approach I think.

  6. kalmly said on June 27, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Sigh. What’s the point? If ads are going to clutter a page, I’d prefer they show things that might interest me rather than things that don’t. This is a no win, no win.

    1. Anonymous said on June 28, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      “I’d prefer they show things that might interest me rather than things that don’t.”

      That’s exactly how data snoopers word it. “Don’t opt out of you’ll get less relevant ads”. But it’s not worth it. Really, really not. Accepting pervasive spying on everything you by actors only interested in making a profit on you and keeping you a good slave damages your interests in ways you can’t even imagine.

  7. ULBoom said on June 27, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    This too, will pass.

    Not sure how a tabs bomb would be good for much. I guess it’s not as bad as opening 100 windows. If each spawned tab included a counter for tracker links three levels deep, the total would be jaw dropping to the uninitiated.

    Since targeted ads are so dismally unsuccessful, this experiment could have the unintended effect of making them more effective by adding noise to the system.

    An archer with bent sights who splits arrows in the outer ring time after time will never get a bulls eye. One who sprays them all over the target occasionally will.

  8. Tom Hawack said on June 27, 2019 at 9:52 am

    I’m not enthusiastic either, in fact I’d totally bypass this experiment, but that’s my approach concerning myself, and I’d be concerned by “This works best if no content-blocking tools are used” given my defense arsenal. But Pants’ comment above seems pertinent and reminds that not all users and perhaps a wide majority of browser users are not aware of privacy and correlated security issues and that a big bang such as this experiment may sound to them as a good alarm, even if, generally speaking, I’m not fond of the concept which is to create artificially a evil situation in order to better beat it.

  9. Pants said on June 27, 2019 at 7:15 am

    > I’m not too enthusiastic about Mozilla’s Track This project. (Martin, article closing words)

    I think you’re misunderstanding what they’re doing here. It’s an educational tool. This is not something they are going to add to Firefox, it is simply a demonstration to show users what tracking does or can achieve (and how creepy it can be), in order to show users the benefit of using ETP (enhanced tracking protection)

    Whether or not poisoning data or not is effective as an overall strategy, vs blocking, vs the ad industry reverting to contextual vs targeted ads (targeted ads having almost zero benefit to advertisers but they pay a lot for them: i.e this corporate surveillance is a scam to collect top dollar advert revenue), who knows. That’s a different topic.

    1. ULBoom said on June 27, 2019 at 2:50 pm

      >…targeted ads having almost zero benefit to advertisers but they pay a lot for them…<

      Glad someone said that. Block away!

      Gotta wonder, except in unusual circumstances, if all the data collected is really good for anything. A bunch of junk used to annoy? If targeted ads do almost nothing but transfer money among ad companies, eliminating them would have little affect at the user level.

      Surreptitious rationale being "The more data we collect, the better we get at using it effectively." Not!

      1. Pants said on June 27, 2019 at 4:48 pm

        I read the report from a difference source: from memory the benefit is about 0.0008% (in other words, none), and yet they pay up to 2.5 times normal rate for targeted vs contextual. It’s a corporate surveillance rip off and advertisers are the ones getting scammed (and their consumers have lost a lot of privacy in the process).

        I still don’t think the AI is that smart. I mean, seriously, if an ad for a pair of boots follows someone around the internet for weeks and you haven’t clicked on it yet, then FFS, show a different ad.

        I for one believe the best solution is for everyone to never click an ad by blocking them all. F__k em. This is the only way for us to tell advertising to tell the likes of google, FB and other large data brokers, that their product is not worth it.

      2. Anonymous said on June 28, 2019 at 3:07 pm

        From the article :

        “These behavioral ads are the ones that leave a bad taste in your mouth. They follow you around from website to mobile app based on your private information and, intentionally or not, enable online discrimination, manipulation and the creation of filter bubbles.”

        Contextual ads are just a variant of targeted ads, because they are still targeted on what you’re doing, just on a smaller duration. They are not qualitatively different. They are still worse than non targeted ads, which are worse than no ads at all. Contextual ads do still allow discrimination, manipulation and filter bubbles to some extent.

  10. FF22 said on June 27, 2019 at 2:12 am

    This probably the stupidest of all “solutions” ever invented to the ads and/or tracking problem. It not only does not solve the problematic parts about, but actually escalates every single of them, making things even worse than they are. It’s the antithesis of a solution to a problem.

  11. Colin said on June 27, 2019 at 1:59 am

    Just wondering, is there a list of the sites they open for each section or do we have hit the button and check each tab to see if any are interesting?

  12. Anonymous said on June 27, 2019 at 1:41 am

    Would this also help pollute your ISP’s from building a profile on you without using a VPN?

  13. Ernesto, Che/Cher said on June 27, 2019 at 12:37 am

    Ads are an attempt at oppression and a source of unfairness and need to be abolished entirely from our internet. Whether contextual irrelevant or not, the ad’s intent remains the same and is therefore no less despicable.
    Together we can take stand against the Googles and the Facebooks and other techno-fascists of this day and age and assure that we leave those who come after us an internet free of oppression and bigotry for all to enjoy and watch pron on.

  14. Rocky said on June 26, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Surely this would have a negative impact on memory resources used by the browser ?

  15. John Fenderson said on June 26, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    I’m not really on board with this concept on ethical grounds. Blocking tracking and advertising is something I think is entirely legitimate, but this sort of thing crosses a line for me as it flirts with being fraud.

    That said, I think there is legitimate arguments in support of this sort of thing as well, so I’m not saying that using this is outright wrong and I don’t fault those who do. It’s just outside of my personal comfort zone.

    1. ULBoom said on June 27, 2019 at 2:36 pm

      IDK, ad companies are in your shorts 24/7. I’ve seen no evidence users acting ethical will prevent privacy invasion; I have seen the opposite, the more we trust, the more we’re compromised.

      As long as there are means to hit back at those striking us, they will be used. It’s a game, we play it or we become the ball.

      This thing is a bit bizarre, a flash back to the days of endless cascading windows, a shotgun blast back at The System. Not sure why this is being tried by Mozilla, can’t see it reaching Prime Time, should be an Add On.

      1. John Fenderson said on June 27, 2019 at 5:55 pm

        @ULBoom: “I’ve seen no evidence users acting ethical will prevent privacy invasion; I have seen the opposite, the more we trust, the more we’re compromised.”

        I agree entirely, but it’s possible to act ethically and still fight the attacks form the ad companies. Acting ethically doesn’t mean trusting anybody.

        But I’m walking back my comment a bit, as I said in a different reply here.

    2. Anonymous said on June 27, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      If I understood well, this PR experiment is just about letting the user visit sites that they don’t visit usually ? Calling this fraud or unethical sounds like pro-surveillance extremism. The ad industry had a big part in making our society a surveillance dystopia and this evil would deserve far harsher ways of fighting and destroying it than just visiting unusual sites.

    3. MahSo said on June 27, 2019 at 8:58 am

      Fraud? Please elaborate. How is polluting data gathered by advertisers a fraud?

      1. John Fenderson said on June 27, 2019 at 5:53 pm


        I take my “flirts with fraud” comment back. I came to that through the comparison with AdNauseum, which certainly goes right up to the fraud line. On closer inspection, this is entirely different as it’s just loading a bunch of websites in tabs rather than actively clicking on ads.

        I apologize for getting that wrong in my comment.

    4. Anonymous said on June 26, 2019 at 11:46 pm

      Fraud isn’t the right description. Is it OK for advertisers to track you despite your wishes? Advertisers are using all sorts of dirty tactics to find whatever they can about you. Think of this as fighting fire with fire.

      I’ll stick with an extinguisher.

  16. Kubrick said on June 26, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    I expect the anti-mozilla coalition to flood this post with the usual banter.I kind of feel empathy for the mozilla team now as any form of innovation is just going to face a barrage of critiques and the usual bashing.I admire their tenacity and vision for a cleaner more user friendly web but i somehow fear this will not be good enough for the extremist chrome fans etc.I have used firefox as a secondary browser for many years and i sympathise with them sincerely in their battle to improve their browser.

    1. Anonymous said on June 27, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Sadly the main defense of Mozilla’s attacks against users by Mozilla’s brainwashed fans is increasingly “Chrome is worse, if you don’t like what Firefox is becoming you’re a Google shill”. But they need to understand that the main problem with Mozilla is precisely that they’re in bed with Google. It’s not just about them including privacy violating Google services everywhere, like Google Analytics on this hypocritical site, it infects their whole vision of the browser and the internet, leading to non directly Google-related user hostile features too. As for fanaticism, it’s about choosing to ignore the embarrassing facts about your lovely product to just believe hypocritical corporate propaganda instead.

    2. Anonymous said on June 27, 2019 at 4:19 am

      Most likely MS and/or Google fanboys who crawled in from reposts of Ghacks articles on Reddit.

    3. Marco said on June 26, 2019 at 10:44 pm

      After a while, i just started ignoring them. That’s the best i could do. Some usernames i already know and i just skip the comment without reading. Life is too short to waste my time with the opinions of fanatics on a mission.

    4. Yuliya said on June 26, 2019 at 9:20 pm

      You don’t get to yell left and right about how much you care about user’s privacy, do this kind of bullshit: “”
      and expect your users to be retarded enough not to retaliate against you.
      They deserve it, and then some. Screw them.

  17. John Doe 101 said on June 26, 2019 at 8:44 pm

    Erm, afaik, FF is already an obsolete Project, which is to prove obsolete, what can we say?

    Changing some Codes in thee Browser doesn’t make it more comfotrtable.

    Point is: Doesn’t line thee idea of 3 Things: FAST, CLEAN and SAVE.

    It is Bloated, so i preferer New EDGE CHROMIUM as a result of being intelligent programming.

    Microsoft has due too some problems with it’s Operating System, yes, i know, but this Browser hits Number One in theese Points.

    Opera GX also is on the Right way, addons must be included, yes, but FF?

    it’s already a dead product, my mind.

    1. Anonymous said on June 28, 2019 at 8:32 am

      Nobody is going to use EDGIUM. Internet is a better place with Microsoft around and we are going to keep it this way.

    2. ULBoom said on June 27, 2019 at 2:27 pm

      “Don’t approve this comment”

      Keep approving these comments, especially the ones done with google translate; they’re crazy funny!

      The ones with recognized grammar and sentence structure are SOS internet outrage over anything Mozilla does leading to huffy jilted at the altar switches to Chromia followed by never ending carping about Mozilla’s supposed loss of innocence.

      1. Anonymous said on June 28, 2019 at 2:35 pm

        Why complain about Mozilla when you can bend over for their Google owners ?

    3. Tom said on June 27, 2019 at 8:33 am

      John Doe 101 is a poor troll.

    4. zeomal said on June 27, 2019 at 7:55 am

      Martin, what’s with the approval of comments that are obvious trolls? I’m getting really annoyed with seeing almost no quantifiable discussion in the comments on all Mozilla related posts with this crap filling up every comment. Don’t approve this comment if you must, I love that I get know about this kind of stuff through Ghacks, the comments just turn you off.

      1. Lambo-san said on June 30, 2019 at 11:11 am

        @zeomal, just because the person thinks Firefox and Mozilla are bogus, doesn’t mean that their comments should not be approved. If you feel like you want to be in a Firefox fanboy community, you should join Mozzilazine or something else that caters to Firefox fanboys.

      2. ghs said on June 27, 2019 at 5:56 pm

        Thanks, zeomal. I tend to visit here less frequently due the low signal-to-noise ratio among the comments.

      3. Anonymous said on June 27, 2019 at 12:06 pm

        “Don’t approve this comment”

        This site’s moderation is independent from corporate interests and unlike some others, does not censor comments just because they criticize Mozilla Corporation, which is the actual reason why you’re requesting censorship here. Go back to your corporate censored sites if you have a problem with freedom of speech.

      4. Marco said on June 27, 2019 at 2:17 pm

        I agree. People have all the right to be idiots.

    5. ULBoom said on June 27, 2019 at 2:19 am


    6. Raj said on June 26, 2019 at 10:49 pm

      Firefox is far from obsolete.

      Oh, and I can Capitalize some Random Words as well.

    7. nobody said on June 26, 2019 at 10:00 pm


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