Mozilla showed VPN ads in Firefox before suspending them

Martin Brinkmann
May 26, 2023
Updated • Jun 12, 2023
Firefox, VPNs

Some Mozilla Firefox users have received popup advertisement in the browser recently. Mozilla used the ad to promote its own Mozilla VPN service to users of the browser. The campaign has now been suspended by the company.

Mozilla launched its VPN service in 2020 officially. It is using the infrastructure of Mullvad, a VPN service known for its focus on privacy. It is an optional service that users may subscribe to.

The advertisement that users saw in Firefox came out of the blue for users. Some noted that their browser windows became unresponsive for a time before the popup ad was shown to them.

mozilla firefox vpn ad

The advertisement itself promoted Mozilla VPN with a 20% discount code. The ad did not include a close option that would permanently shut it down, only a "not now" option, which many companies seem to favor these days to give their users no option to say "no, thanks".

A bug report was created on Bugzilla, Mozilla's official bug tracking site. Several threads on Mozilla's official support site were also created, see here and here as examples.

User ben153 wrote: "Today Firefox stopped altogether and dimmed the entire window and popped up a "Try the Firefox VPN" message. I use Firefox specifically to get away from disruptive, intrusive violations like that. This needs to be removed immediately and never ever happen again. It's completely antithetical to the core values of Firefox."

A forum moderator replied to the threads, stating "Firefox is committed to creating an online experience that puts people first, as such we quickly stopped running the ad experience, and are reviewing internally".

The answer infuriated some users even further. They said that "an online experience that puts people first" should never show ads in this way or use the "not now" option as the only option to close prompts.

Mozilla appears to have suspended the advertisement campaign right now.  Long-time users of the browser may be reminded of the Mr. Robot campaign that Mozilla ran in 2017 in Firefox. It promoted the TV show by installing a browser extension automatically in Firefox. While installing a browser extension is a different level of interference with user devices, many Mozilla employees did not know about the campaign when it launched.

It looks as if marketing has pushed this into Firefox, suggesting that Mozilla could push VPN subscriptions this way significantly. This is speculation on our part, and we have to wait for Mozilla's official response to find out more about this.

While it is understandable that Mozilla wants more subscribers for Mozilla VPN, pushing popup ads into Firefox is not the way to go about it.

Now You: did you get the ads? What is your take on this?

Mozilla showed VPN ads in Firefox before suspending them
Article Name
Mozilla showed VPN ads in Firefox before suspending them
Some Mozilla Firefox users have received popup advertisement for Mozilla's VPN service in the browser recently. Here is what we know about this.
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  1. Rex said on June 5, 2023 at 6:35 am

    Gotta love all the Firefox masochists going on with the ‘you can turn it off in about:config’ excuse as usual, to deflect from the question as to why tf does a privacy respecting browser have this bullshit in the first place.
    A browser extension isn’t a VPN either, and anyway you still have to trust whoever is running it.

  2. tinass said on May 29, 2023 at 4:25 am

    Browser choice – all software choices, really – still comes down to “who do you trust?” Mozilla (FF), Google (Chrome), Google+MS (Edge), or someone obscure with a short track record and a too-small-to-measure market share offering a modded version of chromium (basically, everyone else)?

    Apologies to Safari, Opera and a couple of mobile browsers, but you know what I mean.

    It’s still an easy choice for me.

    Freaking out about minor things like the above isn’t improving anything, it’s just making noise.

  3. Anonymous said on May 27, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    Sample reactions to the unblockable intrusive VPN ad from MozCorp randomly popping over sites while dimming the background:

    “Firefox is committed to creating an online experience that puts people first”
    “We’re continuously trying to understand the best ways to communicate with people who use Firefox”

    200 times fucking users with things like that and worse anti-user behaviors over the years and they’re still pretending to be the good guys. And no, it’s not limited to that MrRobot story, MrRobot just one that made the big news more than the average, although not even the only one such.

    “It’s completely antithetical to the core values of Firefox.”

    That third quote is not from MozCorp but displays one of the 200 times fucked users still thinking that it’s antithetical to the core values of Firefox to do that. At least I could understand Mozilla spreading its usual corporatespeak to cover its latest defecation, but such users still believing it becomes a real mystery of human nature. Does Chrome even do that ?? More seriously, I realize the gigantic efforts Mozilla makes to keep the normal users in ignorance and surprisingly even lots of technical ones, so it’s understandable.

    Oh and look at the r/firefox threads on the subject, full of censored contributions, including the ones that started the threads… The great thing about it being that it’s hard to verify that it was abusively censored, which is what happens most of the time there, unless having read it early before removal, being the target of the silencing job or using dedicated tools. Usually “I politely did not like your ad”, “Hey here is some polite proof that contrary to what you employees just pretended Firefox does indeed spy on its users with that feature”, or “I know that it’s not the place to discuss that but since you guys started it let me state that I politely disagree with your country bombing that other one”, can be enough to disappear from their forum. Free speech at its best, another core value of Mozilla.

    “It looks as if marketing has pushed this into Firefox”

    Obviously, but I don’t see how it matters. Yes, I see, maybe as a way to present it as an overreach of a small team of evil marketing people inside a nice charity that interfered with the normal benevolent technical work but now it won’t ever happen again. That again forgets this evil greed and hypocrisy happening all the time and being deeply intertwined with most of technical choices made in the browser. Often not visibly to the average user.

    A last point, a user asked on support dot mozilla dot org (apologies but ghacks tends to remove some of my posts with links and not to reply to questions about the reason) how to block that ad with uBlock Origin. The answer, correct, was that he could not. However that is only true since Firefox Quantum and Webextensions, that decided that adblockers would not longer be able to block MozCorp’s own ads and tracking requests (“for privacy reasons”). Some would argue that in that case the user could still spend 30 minutes on the web looking for a solution and then manually change some obscure setting in about:config, if not scared by the warning not to do it that will pop up, until that hidden setting disappears silently and stops working, as usual, and all that assuming that it’s a Firefox version that hasn’t removed all access to about:config. Sure, but uBO would have done it automatically.

  4. VioletMoon said on May 27, 2023 at 4:14 pm

    My computers must be running some other version of Firefox since I never get to see any of the complaints the articles [so many of them] mention.

    Have never seen an advertisement for pushing for a VPN purchase. The advertisement shown in the screenshot–don’t have it, haven’t seen it, would do my best to eliminate it if I did have it. Have never seen a Pocket article, since that is a simple click in Settings.

    I must have done something at some point in time [no about:config changes] to exterminate the non-essential, which means if I can do it, so can any other user:

    [Which means if someone is writing an article about a perceived problem and others are making comments about the same said perceived problem, then they don’t know whatever it is one does to easily circumvent undesirable issues with Firefox which used to be gHacks’ purpose and mission as a blog–help users make Firefox a “got to” browser].

  5. Anonymous said on May 27, 2023 at 8:09 am

    The worst thing is it locked the whole browser. It’s not the first time this happened, I’ve seen this when they promoted some browser theme thing.

  6. zerb said on May 27, 2023 at 2:13 am

    Ads are unwelcome behaviour. Although the truth is that I haven’t seen this ad, or any ad, from FF, ever.

    I’m not going to get excited about a one-off like this. If FF start making a habit of it, well, then I’ll start playing with about:config and/or uBlock Origin.

    I’m already using Mullvad, and recommend it.

  7. Scroogled said on May 26, 2023 at 10:43 pm

    This is horrible coming from a group that I used to be so proud of. Not anymore. They were only experimenting, and it didn’t turn very well. It will get worse if we don’t respond quickly.

  8. John G. said on May 26, 2023 at 8:19 pm

    I didn’t remember that FF had a VPN. However about the ads: LOL.

  9. Herman Cost said on May 26, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    I understand why some commentators are concerned with Mozilla related privacy and advertising practices when Firefox is used without any setting and about:config tweaks. But from my personal perspective it is far more important that I can actually make those setting and about:config tweaks to make the browser work the way I want it to work. And I can do that (as well as make various other changes which make my overall experience more enjoyable), with the result that I never see any ads or pop-ups, and can largely, if not entirely, mitigate any privacy issues. So Firefox is and will remain my primary browser as long as that does not change.

  10. Hellas said on May 26, 2023 at 5:19 pm

    > Mozilla appears to have suspended the advertisement campaign right now.

    What a stupid comparison… To “advertise” related products from the same (!) company is nothing new at all, so what’s the news / scandal / sensation here?

    1. Anonymous said on May 28, 2023 at 1:35 am

      “What a stupid comparison… To “advertise” related products from the same (!) company is nothing new at all, so what’s the news / scandal / sensation here?”

      First, it’s quite invasive, popping up in the middle of the page while dimming the background, and promises to come back. It’s worse than just a small rectangle somewhere on a blank new tab for example, which would already suck because it would be an ad. Don’t forget the basics please, it’s not because adware isn’t new that it is good. Firefox users have rightfully complained for lots of less invasive ad practices in the browser. Furthermore Mozilla adds hypocrisy because it pretends to be better than adwares, although you’re right on that point, it’s far from new that they aren’t better. Also, it can’t be blocked like a web site ad. And web site owners have seemingly not all loved the confusion of users wondering if it’s their site who just did that to them.

      Second, it’s not even really a product from the same company (but I love that you see them as a business more than the charity they aren’t but pretend to be by the way, we’re making progress here). It’s a third-party VPN company (Mullvad) that pays them to advertise for them. But not just that, it’s worse. They paid Mozilla to buy their good (?!) name and stamp it on their third-party product Mozilla has strictly nothing to do with, calling it Mozilla VPN. So a mixture of a deceptive ad and Mozilla showing no self-respect (or is it Mullvad, unclear). They paid to integrate their ad so deeply that it goes through a Firefox account, I guess the customer pays Mozilla that pays Mullvad then, there may be integration code in the browser, and so on. Some would call it a partnership, sure but mostly an ad partnership. A bit like Google Search is a partner of Mozilla, paying to get user search data and getting deep browser integration, although their relationship has a different balance and they control much more of the company, and except that Google didn’t pay to have its search engine renamed “Mozilla Search”.

      Third, you’re right that even if it’s not really the case here, advertising for products of the same company (if relevant, ethical, and so on) is not as bad as advertising for third-parties, but Mozilla does that too since longer than that pop-up and not just for Mullvad like here (or Google Search, a modest hundreds of millions of dollars ad deal, or MrRobot…). Lots of non permanent ad deals were seen, like for some movie about a red panda, or was it selling concert tickets too. The surprise effect that was part of the deal (they didn’t learn from MrRobot) made it worse, don’t think the non permanent aspect was only a good thing. And sometimes it’s even exploiting user data: understand spying. Like the Ghostery Cliqz human web or whatever partnership (to be fair, they had invested money in that company, but in that case that only makes it worse). Or the ads (sponsored site recommendations) targeted on what users type in the address bar, I don’t know if that still exists. Not sure what the current situation is on Pocket personalized ads. Of course the sponsored links on the start page. The sponsored (officially or not, I don’t remember) extension recommendations, including shady ones of course. The various experiments for Brave-like ad systems beyond the Pocket one. No need for a complete list, you got the idea. They’re not your average open source software developer : they “put people first”.

  11. just an Ed said on May 26, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    I’ve never seen any pop-ups from Mozilla; nor did I see the Mr. Robot campaign. I wonder if this is only happening on Windows machines, as I’ve been using Linux since 2017.

    1. Anonymous said on May 27, 2023 at 9:13 pm

      It’s not impossible that they are more careful with their linux audience because those have a stronger self-defense on average. And maybe some distributions try to customize Firefox to remove some of the offense. But I suspect that most of the general problem is still there for most of linux users. And not just out of laziness or ignorance. The Linux world is also totally infiltrated by people with the same Google-like mentality as MozCorp, who may become very aggressive and organized when someone starts to even simply question their actions.

  12. Mike said on May 26, 2023 at 4:12 pm

    The whole only giving an option to say “Not now”, and not letting the user say “No”, demonstrates complete lack of respect and even contempt for the user. I expect that behavior from Microsoft; actually I expect that from every tech organization today, because none of them have any respect for their users… NONE. They’re all slimy corporate sociopaths.

    Re: “Not now” instead of taking “No” for an answer… If you wouldn’t behave like that when interacting with your date, then you shouldn’t behave like that when interacting with your customers. Really it’s not hard to understand.

    Seriously considering switching browsers over this.

  13. Andy Prough said on May 26, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    >”… core values of Firefox”

    i.e., diverting as much money as possible from Google into the pockets of top Mozilla executives.

    1. Hellas said on May 26, 2023 at 5:21 pm

      On the one side you critize Mozilla for getting monkey from Google (you don’t have any argument of course). At the same time you critize Mozilla for trying to get more people to use Mozilla’s own commercial offers so that they need less money from Google. Since it’s clear for everyone who is able to use the brain that this doesn’t make sense it’s clear that you’re just trolling.

      1. Anonymous said on May 27, 2023 at 9:01 pm

        “On the one side you critize Mozilla for getting monkey from Google (you don’t have any argument of course).”

        It’s public data, they get hundreds of millions of dollars every year from Google, if what you mean is doubting the facts. Look at their own financial reports:

        Page 6: around 500 million dollars in 2021 from search royalties.

        “At the same time you critize Mozilla for trying to get more people to use Mozilla’s own commercial offers so that they need less money from Google”

        That argument is used every time by Mozdrones, for instance previously for Pocket. “Ok we’re doing something evil like Google, but not with Google, because we want less money from them, so you’re contradicting yourself if you hate our latest spyware/adware/other deal”

        However the same financial report above states that all of their own dirty side-deals with other businesses than Google total for less than 10% of the search royalties. The intent was never independence from Google. That makes it even more insulting from them, actually.

        “Since it’s clear for everyone who is able to use the brain that this doesn’t make sense it’s clear that you’re just trolling.”

        And that is the typical tone used by Mozdrones again and again, usually against respectful people saying accurate, fair and necessary things. Which again shows their hypocrisy with the image of carebears full of love and respect for the others that they are trying to convey. But hey, they’re a business, nothing unusual here.

      2. Andy Prough said on May 29, 2023 at 7:55 pm

        >”And that is the typical tone used by Mozdrones again and again”

        I disagree with the tone of htis post – I respect Firefox users and would not call them “mozdrones”. Since you are responding to someone’s post in response to me, you should try to do it respectfully. If you want to start your own sub-thread and call people names, then by all means go right ahead.

      3. Iron Heart said on May 30, 2023 at 11:38 am

        @Andy Prough

        I am thinking the very same thing about Mozilla fanboys, I am just not allowed to spell it out because Martin would selectively delete such a truthful post of mine in response.

      4. Andy Prough said on May 30, 2023 at 3:18 pm

        >”Martin would selectively delete such a truthful post of mine”

        You could probably call them sheeple if that would make you happy. I’ve called fans of a lot of different products “sheeple” in different forums over the years and don’t recall getting dinged for it.

        You could also just let it go, and let others make their own poor choices without feeling the need to correct them. There’s some stress reducing value in that approach. Laugh at their poor choices occasionally, but don’t feel that there’s any burden on yourself to transform them into being better versions of themselves.

      5. Andy Prough said on May 26, 2023 at 9:08 pm

        >”At the same time you critize Mozilla for trying to get more people to use Mozilla’s own commercial offers so that they need less money from Google.”

        I don’t care if Firefox shows Mozilla VPN ads. Every other company I can think of does this kind of cross-marketing. They’d be stupid not to. This kind of ad that blocks the browser and takes of ther screen is obviously kind of dumb, but I’m sure they’ll find other smarter ways to remind users to get a VPN subscription.

        No, I am merely criticizing Mozilla for being a bought-and-paid Google puppet, and for putting nasty, untrusted Google code in their product. And for their executive compensation structure. I’m pretty straightforward in my dislikes.

  14. Brad said on May 26, 2023 at 2:54 pm

    “…It’s completely antithetical to the core values of Firefox.”

    What exactly are the core values of Firefox now-a-days? They are an organisation that complains about monopolies, but yet are quite happy to accept money from monopoly and privacy abuser Google to be the default search provider. And when it comes to negotiating time for the default search engine, they start talks with monopoly and privacy abuser number two – Microsoft.

    Therefore, it seems they’re only selectively concerned about monopolies and abusive companies. In which case, maybe they should stop wasting vast sums of money working on a browser engine nobody is interested in and with the money saved, perhaps they can operate more like a non-profit should – using donations like Thunderbird do and partnering with more ethical and privacy-orientated companies like Startpage, DuckDuckGo, Tutanota, etc.. As it is, they’re just another typical Silicon Valley organisation, with large sums of money being funnelled to executives. And for what, so they can push ads for the snake oil that is VPNs. It’s a grift.

  15. TelV said on May 26, 2023 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve been subscribed to Mullvad for more than five years already so signing up to Firefox VPN would just be duplicating that.

    Also, the subscription rate at €5 a month doesn’t change regardless of how long you sign up for, but with Firefox the subscription is more expensive if you only signup for a few months.

    Mozilla should think about offering their VPN for free for a month or two to entice users to signup at a later date. They could do that with a smaller banner I would have thought without irritating users. But the subscription rate needs to change to the same price as Mullvad otherwise users will just switch to that directly since it’s cheaper.

  16. Tom Hawack said on May 26, 2023 at 10:33 am

    I’ve never received a Firefox VPN popup advertisement, maybe because I had set following prefs after encountering not a popup but a banner I think it was, can’t remember exactly what format. The idea was to block the promo, I have no opinion regarding Firefox’s VPN as such.

    pref(“”, true);
    pref(“”, “”);
    pref(“browser.privatebrowsing.vpnpromourl”, “”);
    pref(“browser.vpn_promo.enabled”, false);

  17. Hitomi said on May 26, 2023 at 8:00 am


    Big drama, when I think how the Web3.0, AI, crypto and VPN integration in Brave and Opera One seem to be no problem at all. Whataboutism? None at all, Mozilla backed down instantly after negative feedback.

    1. Frankel said on May 27, 2023 at 9:54 pm

      I solve this easier:

      [ Heart):upward(1)]

      Without the brackets[]

      1. Frank said on May 30, 2023 at 7:32 pm


        This is much better:,.home-posts:not(:has-text(/Martin Brinkmann|Mike Turcotte|Ashwin/))

        I can see only good articles by Martin Brinkmann, Mike Turcotte and Ashwin.

      2. Frankel said on May 27, 2023 at 9:56 pm

        Ublock definitely has its perks!

      3. Iron Heart said on May 27, 2023 at 10:20 pm

        @Frankel acts like him no longer replying to my comments is a big loss to me, but it actually isn’t. It just means he no longer wastes my time and indirectly improves the quality of this website by posting fewer trash takes.

    2. Anonymous said on May 27, 2023 at 8:46 pm

      “Big drama, when I think how the Web3.0, AI, crypto and VPN integration in Brave and Opera One seem to be no problem at all.”

      Problems in others browsers are not a problem at all only for the companies that develop those browsers and sometimes their drones. Please do not generalize. Besides, how many people use Opera and Brave ? Couldn’t you at least use Chrome as an example to sound a little credible ?

      And why not compare instead to browsers that don’t do that kind of things, and promote them instead ? It’s funny how it looks like Mozilla strategy too to only advertise about competitors that are as bad as they are. With a little difference: they’ll say all are fine while you admit all are crap.

      “Mozilla backed down instantly after negative feedback.”

      Sometimes they do, but most of the times they don’t and just give us the middle finger. And don’t trust them even when they do: from them it often only means coming back stronger later to do worse, now that we’re familiar with the idea that this could happen in our browsers.

    3. Hitomi said on May 26, 2023 at 11:40 am

      It cannot be whataboutism since mozilla is literally not going it anymore.
      Meanwhile the cryptobro browser is still infested.

      What a dumpster fire.

      1. Cor Invictus said on May 26, 2023 at 12:14 pm

        From the same website, but about firefox

        The 4th. chapter, the conclusion reads:

        “We briefly remember the marketing saying with which Firefox is advertised:
        ‘No shady data protection information or back doors for advertisers. Just a lightning-fast browser that respects your privacy.’
        Dear Mozilla team, a browser that respects the privacy of its users does not track them without his consent. That is exactly what Firefox does in the delivery state. Google should also be criticized as a standard search engine, in which every URL or. Search request is sent to Big Brother. This financial dependency on Google has been criticized for years.

        Overall, Firefox is extremely talkative or sends many inquiries to Mozilla. All unnecessary or data protection-unfriendly data connections can be made via the GUI or the about: config turn off. This is costly, but it is necessary if you want to be on the Internet with a secure and data protection-friendly browser.”

        Auto translated from German in Brave.

      2. Iron Heart said on May 26, 2023 at 12:11 pm

        > It cannot be whataboutism since mozilla is literally not going it anymore.

        Yeah? What about the sponsored links in the address bar and the new tab page, Pocket promotion etc. I don’t think so. The pop-up is just the most egregious example.

        > []

        Kuketz should stop acting like a clown and actually point out that these connections are required for the correct functionality of the browser. None of them are superfluous, except maybe for telemetry / P3A, which doesn’t collect PII and is disabled with two or three clicks in the settings (contrary to FF which has several hidden settings apart from the main kill switch).

        He made an analysis of Firefox as well and trashed it for much the same, often illogical reasons, but I don’t see any hint at that in your comment. I wonder why… Oh wait, I don’t.

        Are you from Germany? Can you even read his article without automatic translation?

    4. Iron Heart said on May 26, 2023 at 9:04 am

      > Web3.0, AI, crypto and VPN integration in Brave

      Yeah maybe because they aren’t shoved down the throat of the users via full-sized pop-up blocking the rest of the browser.

      > Whataboutism?

      Literally your prior sentence was whataboutism.

      Btw. the setting you mentioned is also the wrong one.

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