Firefox browser ad tests spark controversy

13/05/2014

Mozilla is testing a new scheme that will place ads and sponsored content on the boxes that appear when Firefox users launch a new tab on the browser.

Firefox displays nine boxes or "tiles" showing screenshots of the websites visited most often by the user. The company now plans to place sponsored "Directory Tiles" on the new tab page, which would point to selected content for newer users.

Many users were concerned about Mozilla's plan announced earlier this year to add advertising to the boxes.

In a post on the Mozilla blog, Jonathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, stated: "A few months ago Darren posted about some experiments we wanted to do with the new tab page. It didn't go over well. A lot of our community found the language hard to decipher, and worried that we were going to turn Firefox into a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder; without user control, without user benefit."

"That's not going to happen. That's not who we are at Mozilla."

Nightingale went on to say that Mozilla is, however, going to experiment with the concept and rolling out tests on pre-release channels in an effort to make the new tab page more useful. Again, he repeated the point that this is particularly targeted at new Firefox users who don't have recommended tiles derived from previous usage on new tabs.

The aim, Nightingale clarifies, is to improve the new tab page by recommending useful Mozilla resources and other useful websites in general – none of which will be sponsored at this point.

Nightingale wrote: "These tests are purely to understand what our users find helpful and what our users ignore or disable – these tests are not about revenue and none will be collected."

However, if things go well, he further noted that sponsorship and monetisation would be the next stage – but it's clear Mozilla is being careful to tread as lightly as possible here.

The company had previously assured users that while it will use information about their location to provide content relevant to them, no other user information would be "collected or considered".

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