Mozilla has announced Firefox will soon do a Google, meaning it’s going to start showing sponsored ads based on your browsing history. As of next week, Firefox Beta users will start seeing “Suggested” tiles when they open a new tab. Currently, opening a new tab in Firefox presents a screen with tiles from sites you previously visited. Now some of those tiles are going to be ads based on your browsing history. For example, if you’ve been searching for a new camera, one of the tabs might lead you to the website of a camera store.
It’s not the first time Mozilla has brought ads to Firefox. In 2014, they introduced Directory Tiles, which are randomly selected ads that will appear in a newly installed version of Firefox. But these “Suggested” tiles are different because the program will be looking at your history. It means Mozilla is now treading the line between advocating privacy and bringing in revenue. “Suggested Tiles is an advertising experience that delivers content recommendations that are relevant for the user in a transparent way while at the same time respecting their privacy, and giving them complete control over the experience.”
While the nonprofit promises it won’t be collecting users’ data to sell to third parties, many people are still rightly concerned. Mozilla’s advocacy of internet privacy is what drove many of its current users to Firefox over other browsers such as Google’s Chrome. And it’s a little strange to hear a nonprofit talking about enhancing its digital advertising experiences. In Mozilla’s defence, however, we do have plenty of reasons to trust that the nonprofit will keep their promise to not use our data for some nefarious purpose.
Mozilla has said it will follow strict rules about how it’s going to implement these ads. For instance, in order for a suggested tile to appear, the user will have to have visited at least five URLs that indicate they have an interest in a particular area. So if you visit just a couple of sites about, say, the latest developments in virtual reality, it won’t be enough to trigger a tile suggesting you visit some technology news site.
It’s likely Mozilla didn’t come to the decision to implement these ads lightly. While moving to targeted advertising by collecting users’ data feels like a big step in a bad direction, we all understand Mozilla needs to keep the lights on by somehow bringing in money.