Firefox Suggest puts contextual ads in the search bar

JC Torres - Oct 8, 2021, 12:51am CDT
Firefox Suggest puts contextual ads in the search bar

As a non-profit organization, Mozilla has always had the problem of finding ways to keep the lights on. Like many Web companies, it tried to resort to some form of advertisement in order to bring in some revenue to support the development of Firefox, among other things. Those efforts never sat well with Firefox’s more privacy-minded users, and some have either been removed or remained in seclusion. This latest attempt might fall by the wayside as well, but, at least for now, you can still turn off these Firefox search bar ads until it gets removed completely.

The latest “feature” masquerades as the same kind of search suggestions that other browsers offer the moment you start typing something in the search bar. The difference is that Firefox Suggest also includes suggestions that come from Mozilla’s “partners.” This is, of course, just a nicer term for advertisers that share some ad-driven profit with Mozilla in exchange for a spot on those suggestions.

Naturally, that raises some privacy red flags, but Mozilla assures that it doesn’t collect anything it doesn’t already collect anyway. Before Firefox 92, it was already looking into your browsing history, bookmarks, and open tabs to offer non-sponsored search suggestions. No new kind of data is collected for Firefox Suggest, but you do have to allow Firefox to collect those in the first place, at least if you want to see those sponsored suggestions.

The other big question, however, is what data Mozilla sends back to those advertisers. Mozilla promises that it only sends the search query and what you click on to its partners and only through a Mozilla-owned proxy service. No personally identifiable information is ever sent, the organization says, and it only really kicks in if you actually click on a suggestion.

It all boils down to whether you trust the advertising partner that Mozilla trusts to handle potentially sensitive information. Of course, you can also opt out of this new feature, and Firefox will ask you about your preference the first time you launch Firefox version 92. It’s uncertain how long before user backlash forces Mozilla again into a corner, though supporters might want to keep the feature enabled to help keep the organization afloat.


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