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Mozilla proposes Web tech for sharing personal interests

The Interests API would let browsers infer what people are interested in and, when those people give permission, share that information with Web sites that could tailor content or ads accordingly.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's SVP of business and legal affairs
Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's SVP of business and legal affairs Mozilla

Mozilla has tangled with advertisers, for example making it harder for Web sites to use tracking files called cookies

and supporting do-not-track effort to curtail online behavior tracking. But today, it announced an effort that could make advertisers happier.

The nonprofit organization announced an interface that Web sites could use to slurp up information about a user's interests. The idea is to let Web sites customize content and ads according to a user's behavior, but to keep the user in control over what gets shared rather than rely on today's online behavior tracking methods.

The Interests API would assess users' interests automatically. But this is Mozilla we're talking about here, an organization whose mission is to keep people in charge of their own experience as they use Web, so of course the proposal gives users the decision about when to share or not.

Here's how Mozilla Labs product manager Juston Scott described the idea on the Mozilla Labs blog on Thursday:

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.

The technology is geared to help Web publishers, added Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's senior vice president of business and legal affairs, in a separate blog post.

"We want this ecosystem of content creators and service providers to flourish at all levels," he said. "The challenge is that today, the trade-off for users is often implicit and unclear, and few people really understand the value proposition behind the free content and services that they consume."

The idea is still in the experimentation phase, but Mozilla has run the ideas past Internet users, publishers, brands, advertising technology companies, developers, and privacy advocates. "The responses so far suggest that the ecosystem would welcome better intent and interest signals combined with active user participation," Anderson said.