Mozilla's Mitchell Baker Gets Crystal Clear on Ads Headed for Firefox

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 14, 2014

For a couple of years now, Mozilla has changed its tune regularly on whether Firefox users should or should not be subjected to ads as they browse. Last year there were kerfuffles over personalization concepts that appeared to open the door for Firefox ads, and then in August of last year The Internet Advertising Bureau started firing off screed after screed against Mozilla for its plans to block advertising cookies in the Firefox browser by default.

Just this week, Mozilla appeared to buckle under the weight of the Internet Advertising Bureau's wishes as the company delivered an announcement that it is going to put "Directory Tiles" in front of Firefox users, which sound a lot like ads. Now, Mozilla's Mitchell Baker has weighed in officially on the topic of ads in Firefox, and her response is worth a read. 

Baker writes:

"Firefox came out of a world in which both Netscape/AOL (the alma mater of many early Mozillians) and Microsoft had valued their content and revenue sources over the user experience...we look at the Tiles and wonder if we can do more for people.  We think we can. I’ve heard some people say they still don’t want any content offered.  They want their experience to be new, to be the same as it was the day they installed the browser, the same as anyone else might experience.  I understand this view, and think it’s not the default most people are choosing.  We think we can offer people useful content in the Tiles."

"When we have ideas about how content might be useful to people, we look at whether there is a revenue possibility, and if that would annoy people or bring something potentially useful.  Ads in search turn out to be useful.  The gist  of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like 9 Tiles on a page, and that 2 or 3 of them would be sponsored — aka 'ads.'  So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka “ads”) could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes."

"These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features. Why would we include any sponsored results?  If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value.  That generates revenue that supports the Mozilla project.   So to explicitly address the question of whether we care about generating revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s work, the answer is yes.  In fact, many of us feel responsible to do exactly this."

While many people are not going to like the idea of ads in the browser, you have to hand it to Baker for being honest. Mozilla is dependent on Google for the vast majority of its revenues, even as Firefox is one of the most widely used software applications of all. Perhaps the company has a right to some revenues as long as the ads don't become ubiquitous and annoying.

Notably, Baker also called out that Mozilla is having to spend money to make the new Firefox OS mobile platform appealing. "Building an entire mobile ecosystem is extremely expensive," she writes. "Offering services is expensive. If we don’t do these things then we will not be able to offer people the tools for modern life."

Many people have to do things they wouldn't otherwise do to make money. Will you hold it against Mozilla if the company opens the door to ads?