Mozilla Accused of Running Ads On Firefox

John Lister's picture

Mozilla says a promotional message that appeared on Firefox's "new tab" page was not a paid ad. It says it was instead an experiment.

A "new tab" page appears when the user either presses CTRL +T on the keyboard, or clicks the tab with a plus sign  to start a new browser tab.

The message appeared at the bottom of the screen on the new tab page and offered a $20 Amazon gift card to users who clicked on a link and then reserved a hotel room on Booking.com.

It's reminiscent of a few years back when the new tab page was made up of several tiles, mostly linking to some of the pages the user had most often visited. Mozilla previously tried having one of these tiles as an advertisement - a move that received a hostile response before being dropped.

Snippet Delivers Message

The new message instead comes via the Snippets feature which is a bar across the bottom of the page. It's more commonly used to detail new features in Firefox or other projects Mozilla has worked on.

According to a Mozilla statement to VentureBeat, this "was not a paid placement or advertisement." Instead it describes it as "an experiment to provide more value to Firefox users through offers provided by a partner." It also noted no data is shared with the partner, in this case Booking.com. (Source: venturebeat.com)

However, it's clear Mozilla would like to carry paid advertising in this position. It added that "these efforts are intended to support an open ecosystem" - in other words to contribute financially to the development of Firefox.

How To Block Such Messages

It's also clarified that the message appeared for five days and could only be seen by a selected audience of 25 percent of Firefox users in the United States.

While it's unclear if Mozilla intends to repeat this "experiment," it is reasonably simple to prevent such promotional messages appearing again, albeit by switching off Snippets altogether. To do this users need to either type:

about:preferences#home

into the address bar, or select "Options" and then "Home" from the main menu. Here users can un-tick the box marked "Snippets" which is described here as "Updates from Mozilla and Firefox." (Source: howtogeek.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Was this a reasonable move by Mozilla? Should users learn to live with ads on a free browser? How intrusive would ads have to be to provoke you into switching browsers?

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Average: 4.1 (9 votes)

Comments

Dennis Faas's picture

Mozilla's response that this was an "experiment" and not an "advertisement" is a joke. It was an ad, plain and simple.

The moment I start seeing newly-placed "featured" ads in browsers I will either seek to disable the "feature" (which I have already done), or I will switch to another browser.

I see enough ads as it is and don't want more ads shoved down my throat. I want my browser as plain vanilla as possible, using the fewest resources as possible.

As soon as ads are put into the equation, system resources become deprived because now the program is focusing on serving ads (which eats CPU usage or Internet bandwidth) instead of doing what it's supposed to do. NO THANKS!

This is the same reason why I will never ever use 99% of the "free" apps on Google play for my Android devices (phone and tablet). There are just WAY too many ads to make most of the apps useful. For example, some apps will make you watch a full screen ad every time you complete a stage or your player dies in a game. That is simply overkill and I would never, ever purchase an app that served that many ads - let alone use the app in the first place!

doulosg's picture

Is your comment a test? With an embedded ad. I'm laughing at the "joke;" should I be?

beach.boui's picture

Mozilla is at a distinct disadvantage. Google has an incredible distribution system for it's Chrome browser, and will soon be further distributed in a Microsoft skin. Mozilla has no such distribution system, yet, needs to somehow stay relevant in the browser war. The vast majority of computer users don't even know the name of the browser they use. They just use whatever is handed to them on the device they're using. How does Firefox compete? They operate most on the Mozilla Foundation endowment, which may not carry them forever. I contend that many, many clueless users who are already accustomed to being fed a steady stream of online ads won't bat an eyelid at the occasional advertisement on the New Tab page. If it helps to fund the future development of the Mozilla browser, it may not be such a bad thing. The worst thing of all would be for Mozilla to be unable to continue development of the Firefox browser. When we have only one real choice, we're all in trouble. If Firefox is distributed with the adverts enabled, concerned users will know, or can find out, how to disable them. No big deal. I would still prefer Firefox to the Chrome browser many times over.

dan_2160's picture

I guess our Firefox browsers (latest version) weren't part of the test group because nobody in our small office has received these "snippet" ads. Nonetheless, I've unchecked the "Snippet" box as Dennis described.

Given that it's nearly impossible to find Android apps on my cell phone that don't have ads, I've just learned to block out ads on the phone or computer.

I value Firefox enough to accept that Mozilla has to bring in cash to keep functioning. So the advertising isn't such a bad thing if it enables Mozilla to continue to support and develop Firefox (and Thunderbird email). And let's not forget that you can turn off the "snippets," although admittedly most computer users wouldn't have a clue to look there to turn off the advertising. Then again, the vast majority of computer users do not install or use Firefox, sadly.

So while I certainly can appreciate Dennis' distain for online advertising, there's got to be some give and take between consumers and providers. Mozilla has been giving for a long time; maybe Mozilla should be allowed to take a bit too.

Focused100's picture

Hi Dennis,
I think you're being too hard on Mozilla. They're between a rock and a hard place.
They need to generate income to stay in the race. I'm considering switching back to them from Chrome since they made all these improvements.

Dennis Faas's picture

Mozilla isn't poor.

If you look at Wikipedia, Mozilla foundation generated $562 million in 2017. They may be a "non-profit" organization but they are surely making money - perhaps fist fulls. They make most of their money by referring users to Google or Yahoo (or other) as the default search engine on the browser, depending on who's paying.

Here's more financial data here that backs up what I said:

https://www.cnet.com/news/google-firefox-search-deal-gives-mozilla-more-money-to-push-privacy/

ifpusr's picture

Up with DDG :)

pctyson's picture

Dennis,
I do not wish to be argumentative or disrespectful. There is no malice in this post, only a desire to state what others also might be thinking also. Your site contains the most obtrusive of advertising methods. I know that ads help to fund the information that you provide but they do not have to be the "mouseover" type of ads. In my opinion, these are some of the worst forms of advertising. These ads are designed to open a "window" or space on the web page when the mouse passes over them. The mouse cursor often passes over the "words" that are ad triggers accidentally which triggers a pop-out of the ad. The ad then must be "closed" by clicking an "x" in the top right corner of the ad. I usually avoid these types of web pages unless something really interesting comes across because these intended "accidental" mouseovers are "in your face" ads and are a distraction.

Dennis Faas's picture

The ads on this site are not the same as the ads being pushed onto the web browser regardless of which page you're visiting (as what is being described in this article). I am not sure why the previous comments are comparing the two because these ideas are completely separate.

Yes, some of the ads on this site are obtrusive. I have no control over how they are delivered - only that the ads are enabled on the site or they are not included. I can tell you that we are barely making enough money to stay online. If I disable the ads, I will have to shut the site down - there is no in between and there are no other advertising methods available that are going to supplement the difference. I have been there, done that, and it is what it is. We are not making millions of dollars a year like Mozilla.

pctyson's picture

Not running an extensive site myself, I can not know the costs involved. I am quite sure that it takes up a very considerable amount of your time and finances. My only objection was the type of ads that expand when the mouse rolls over them. There may be no other way to pay for the costs of running your site other than to have these form of ads. If that is so, then so be it. Nothing is truly free and bills must be paid. I have been on many other sites that do not have the "mouseover ads". Perhaps they have means other than ads alone to support their site that allows them to be more selective of the form their ads take.

beach.boui's picture

Here's a tip; change your newsletter subscription to "text only" and advertising links appear in text only with no rollover scripts. But, this is a good and informative newsletter and we should be happy to support it by clicking on and ad link now and then.

ifpusr's picture

Mozilla positioned itself from the outset as makers of privacy-respecting, non-intrusive products. Advertising, which this snippets thing IS, is intrusive.

They are getting greedy and to advertise in snippets or anywhere in Firefox is a betrayal of principles they have claimed to stand for, whether or not explicitly. That's obvious in the use of weasel wording like 'experiment'.

I've used FF and its variants since early days, bristling with extensions to protect privacy/peace of mind and will not hesitate to switch to another browser if Mozilla persist with this crap, even if said other browser is clunkier/uglier.

I am also not all that happy with the new encouragement to create an account and log in. I'll forswear the syncing feeling thanks.

As for this site, I've found it difficult to use in the past because of third party content I'd rather not view, and it's a delicate process to filter out all that and not break the site. I'll tolerate it from Denis's site, whose existence I value greatly and wish to assure. From a browser I will not.

Thanks for your pure stance on this Dennis. I wonder how many commenters here on this matter have been remunerated apologists for FF.

The biggest argument against eternal life or even increased longevity: the perpetual need for idiocy and bad behaviour to be combated. So wearing. Frigging Mozilla. There will be one or two dominant personalities down there untroubled by conscience and unconstrained by principles who will browbeat the rest and engage in general villainy. That sort always rises. :\ Stop the rot!

ifpusr's picture

There is also this:
https://getpocket.com/sponsor
On the Firefox "New" tab, pocket sponsored content to appear.
On the Pocket site is the following:

"Firefox New Tab
Amplify premium sponsored content in a clean, focused environment—at scale. Firefox reaches over 100 million daily active users."

dan_2160's picture

Like it or not, we live in a capitalist, free enterprise society and economy (except for all the socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor to paraphrase the late Michael Harrington and his classic eye-opening book "The Other America").

And in such a society any business -- whether incorporated as a for-profit or nonprofit -- has got to make money to stay in business. So I wouldn't begrudge Dennis for posting ads on this site.

And I'm not so sure I would begrudge Mozilla for its FireFox ads which can easily be turned off (admittedly most computer users wouldn't have a clue how to do that). The missing element from Dennis' point that the Mozilla Foundation brought in $562 million in 2017 is the expenses Mozilla paid out. It's the net income that counts.

Interestingly, novelist Jack London predicted so much of today's world including the ubiquitous advertising in his 1906 novel "The Iron Heel." He also foresaw the consolidation of the media, consolidation of other industries, naming rights, and government focused on serving business rather than the public. It's an exciting and disturbing read - a real political, romantic, thriller now 113 years old.