Mozilla's Firefox Personalization Scheme Sounds Too Ad-Friendly

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 26, 2013

Don't you get annoyed when advertising cookies in your browser seem to know what your interests are and serve up creepy ads that hit a little too close to home? Would you prefer that your Internet browser does not know exactly where you are at all times? If your answer to these questions is yes and you use Firefox, you may object to a new proposal that Mozilla has put up to purportedly "find relevant content easier while publishers enjoy increased engagement, fewer bounces, and stronger loyalty." It's all part of a personalization scheme that sounds fishy.

According to the Mozilla proposal:

"Our Labs team has been thinking about ways in which content creators and consumers could benefit from Web-based interests. For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible. Destinations like the Firefox Marketplace could recommend recipe and movie apps, even if it’s my first time visiting that site."

Umm, no thanks. Many of us are all too familiar with being followed around by creepy ads when we're online, and some of us use open source applications partly because they provide more degrees of freedom from such annoyances than proprietary tools do.

To be fair, the Mozilla proposal says up front that "personalization" tools would be user controlled, but cookies are theoretically user controlled in popular browsers and yet most users ignore the controls. The best way to avoid creepy ads while online is to be in applications that don't allow them.

This shouldn't be lost on Mozilla, especially since the company has been exploring new privacy ideas for Firefox that have angered the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). I covered this dispute in this post.  

The Mozilla proposal adds the following:

"With the help of user researchers, we’ve begun testing this concept with volunteer participants to learn how they respond to the idea of sharing their interests on their own terms in order to see personalized content, and the results are promising. We’ve also tapped into a network of innovative Web content publishers such as Hubert Burda Media and Hearst Publications, notably Popular Mechanics, while developing these ideas, and have heard some great feedback and suggestions so far, as mentioned in our post on The Mozilla Blog."

Media companies that survive on advertisements are involved in the beta tests for these concepts? Again, speaking as a stalwart fan of Firefox, no thanks.