Followup to Mozilla Firefox advertiles

Firefox

The reaction to Mozilla's decision to advertise in Firefox has been interesting to watch. For your consideration, have three responses.

Privacy

I ended my previous post saying I would reserve further judgement until we got more details. Darren Herman has responded disclosing users will have their locations tracked with GeoIP, and that:

As of now, our expectation is that we’ll be delivering the number of impressions (how many times a tile was shown) and interactions (how many interactions with a tile, i.e. clicks).

No real surprises here; a regular website would give these metrics. What's concerning is the word "expectation", which leaves the door open for using other metrics. Given Firefox contains a user's entire browsing history, this could be far more than a typical ad platform, possibly even more than Google has. This is particularly ironic given many of us used Firefox instead of Chrome specifically for this reason.

A no–win situation

In an admission that the feature is unwanted, commentators have claimed the ads will only appear for a brief time after the first install. Nothing to worry about then, right? Maybe not, as the aptly–named Anonymous Firefox User reminds us:

[..] what about users who have Firefox clear out their cache, etc. upon closing. Does this means [sic], each time the browser tab is opened, a new series of ads will be shoved in that users’ face? [..]

Again, we don't have the specifics of its behaviour yet. Still, by its very function a reset browser looks the same as a fresh install, which an ad platform wouldn't be able to tell apart. If it could, it would represent an incomplete reset, which is itself a privacy concern. Hence, a potential no–win situation.

Language

John Gruber wrote a characteristically candid post, where he compared the language used in a Reuters report with Mozilla's announcement. Comments on the latter post liken the language to doublespeak, which seems right.

I think it'd be safe to say Mozilla may have had a better response if they had:

  1. been honest about their motive for ads in that post;
  2. admitted we don't want ads in our browser;
  3. and therefore respectfully assured us the necessary ads would be unobtrusive, while addressing potential privacy concerns.

Instead, they presented it as a new feature that places "users in the centre". This doesn't square with the reality of point 2, therefore even with good intentions it comes across as disingenuous.

I'm grateful to Mozilla for responding to us, but unfortunately it's done little to assuage my concerns. I'll be putting money where my mouth is and donating again to the Mozilla Foundation at my earliest convenience, though if they continue to be evasive it may be for the last time.


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