Firefox Nightly builds get “sponsored” Directory Tiles

Aug 29, 2014
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Firefox Nightly builds get “sponsored” Directory Tiles

It seems that, short of a massive revolt, there is no stopping Mozilla from pushing out one of its more controversial new features. Directory Tiles, which will place a few sponsored websites on your Firefox New Tab page, has finally landed on Firefox Nightly version 34, signaling the impending arrival of the feature before the year ends.

Firefox has had tiles on that new tab long ago. What made these Directory Tiles spark up debates is a topic that ruffles feathers without fail: ads. No, not the type of "personalized" content that darkens your browsing days every now and then. These are simply tiles to web sites, services, or pages that may or may not have paid for their right to be there at the top.

That "may or may not" part is something new. Apparently there will be three types of tiles that will make their home in that tab, depending on the user's previous browsing history. If he or she had been using Firefox before, some of those tiles would be previously or frequently visited sites. Then there are the tiles that are clearly marked with "Sponsored" to indicate that some financial clout was employed. And then there are sites that you've never visited before nor have any sponsored marking. It's a bit confusing but Mozilla explains that these are sites that didn't pay for space but are popular enough to be there. That category also includes Mozilla's own sites and services, even if they are technically not popular at all.

The entire purpose of these Directory Tiles, at least in theory, is so that users, especially new ones, wouldn't have to face the scary image of a blank canvas when opening a new tab or a new browser window. Instead, they would be met by suggestions based on popularity and, well, money. Mozilla, however, promises that there is no user tracking involved, unlike most web ads these days. Of course, the company will still have to disclose to sponsors how many times their tile was displayed and clicked.

Mozilla also promised to leave users in absolute control. They still can, and most probably will, remove the tiles they do not like. But more importantly, Directory Tiles are like training wheels only. The more you use Firefox, the more it replaces those sponsored/popular tiles with your own dynamic selection. In a way, it's a subtle incentive to get you to use the browser more. Version 34 of Firefox isn't set to go stable until November this year, so there's still time for Mozilla to tweak, improve, or maybe even remove it, should it come to that.

VIA: The Next Web


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