Advertising is the business model of the Web, Mozilla concedes. But the non-profit foundation behind the Firefox web browser has so far been unable to adopt that. It has tried, of course, and got no small amount of backlash because of its standing in the open source and privacy-conscious community. Despite setbacks, it’s trying again, this time with a little help from save-for-later service Pocket. Which, by the way, Mozilla owns since February last year.
Firefox never really served ads the way we think of ads on websites. Instead, it had what it called “Enhanced” or sponsored tiles on its New Tab page. These tiles, served by some partner content providers, served links to articles that were more or less “personalized” for individual users.
The swift negative reaction wasn’t surprising. Despite its failures, Mozilla still stood as a champion in some users’ eyes precisely because it was a non-profit. It wasn’t that they didn’t want Mozilla to earn money, they just didn’t like the advertising angle. Mozilla repeatedly defended and explained those enhanced tiles but eventually dialed them down after some pressure.
They never really went away, especially after Mozilla acquired Pocket. They were transformed into “Pocket Recommendations”, showing articles that the service would normally show to its users. Without having to sign up for a Pocket account, of course. Mozilla reports that use of the New Tab page, normally just used to, well, start a new web page tab, increased dramatically because of those Recommendations. After easing users into the idea, Mozilla is taking the next step.
Soon, those Pocket Recommendations will turn into personalized and sponsored Pocket recommendations. Mozilla promises those sponsored content will be clearly marked, can be hidden, and the entire functionality turned off. Mozilla also makes the usual promises of respecting privacy and being open and transparent about it.
The new-old system is still under testing and will only be shown to a small number of Firefox users in the US. Mozilla will once again walk the fine line between making a profit to continue its operations and respecting users’ demands. Given how quick reactions are on matters like this, will know soon enough.