Mozilla reassurance: Firefox new-tab page won't be plastered with logos

Nonprofit clarifies plans for how it'll test sponsored content on pages that show when users open new browser tabs.

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3 min read

Firefox logo

Note: This story originally reported that Mozilla is dropping its plan for sponsored content altogether. That's not the case. The headline and the story have been corrected to clarify.

Mozilla is updating a plan to put ads on the windows that show when Firefox users launch a new browser tab, reassuring users that they won't lose control or be overwhelmed with ads.

Mozilla announced the Firefox new-tab page advertisements idea in February, saying it wanted to feature "directory tiles" that would be useful to users. The plan has caused some worries, though.

"A lot of our community found the language hard to decipher, and worried that we were going to turn Firefox into a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder; without user control, without user benefit," said Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla's vice president of Firefox, in a blog post. "That's not going to happen. That's not who we are at Mozilla."

But the new-tab page still could carry sponsored content from "hand-picked partners," and Mozilla plans to experiment with that in the future.

Mozilla hadn't actually shown any ads thus far, said Darren Herman, vice president of content services, in a statement. "None of the tiles are sponsored at this time because the goal of initial experiments is to measure user interest and value of recommended content. Sponsorship would be the next stage once we are confident that we can deliver user value."

The new-tab page has been a source of revenue for browser rival Opera Software. Partners have paid it for years for access to the "speed dial" page that grants quick access to Web pages. Getting people to discover new services and apps is always tough, as seen by the existence of the search-engine optimization industry and the jockeying to get good placement in app stores, and money can help bring things to consumers' attention.

For Mozilla, sponsored content on the new-tab page could also help diversify revenue from its primary source, Google, which pays Mozilla a portion of search-ad revenue that Firefox sends to the search engine.

Tests are in the works, Nightingale said.

"In the coming weeks, we'll be landing tests on our prerelease channels to see whether we can make things like the new-tab page more useful, particularly for fresh installs of Firefox, where we don't yet have any recommendations to make from your history," Nightingale said. "We'll test a mix of our own sites and other useful sites on the Web. We'll mess with the layout. These tests are purely to understand what our users find helpful and what our users ignore or disable -- these tests are not about revenue and none will be collected."

The ad model has been an interesting development for Mozilla, which has been sharply at odds with online advertisers about the Do Not Track technology. DNT is designed to let people tell Web publishers and advertisers they don't want their behavior on Web sites tracked, despite advertisers' claims that such tracking leads to ads that better match the interests of the audience who sees them.

Mozilla, though, has privacy and user control at the center of its mission. The DNT effort, however, has stalled over thus-far irreconcilable differences between privacy advocates and the advertising industry.

Correction, 1:06 p.m. PT: This story originally reported that Mozilla is dropping its plan for sponsored content altogether. That's not the case. The headline and the story have been corrected to clarify.