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Mozilla to sell New Tab page ads in Firefox

Paid advertisements are on their way to Mozilla Firefox's New Tab page in an attempt to show more sites to first-time browser users.

This mock-up from Mozilla shows how it plans to incorporate sponsored sites into its New Tab page, an attempt to make it more useful for new users while making a few bucks on the side, too. Sites shown are not actual partners on the Directory Tiles project.

Ads are coming to Firefox's New Tab page, browser maker Mozilla announced on Tuesday.

Revealed at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., Mozilla said that the ads are part of an attempt to connect new browser users to sites that they might find relevant.

Called Directory Tiles, the initiative will use a combination of sponsored sites, popular sites based on geographic location, and Mozilla ecosystem items to fill in blank New Tab pages. Currently, the nine empty boxes on a new New Tab page fill in over time with sites culled from the user's browsing history, frequently visited sites, and bookmarks.

"The sponsored tiles will be clearly labeled as such, while still leading to content we think users will enjoy," Darren Herman, Mozilla's vice president of content services, wrote in a blog post.

Herman did not say when Directory Tiles would be introduced, stating only that Mozilla plans to show them to new Firefox users, "as soon as we have the user experience right." Herman told CNET that it will launch first on Firefox for desktops, and eventually make its way to Firefox for Android and Firefox OS.

Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla's general counsel and head of the business affairs group, said that the plan was consistent with Mozilla's core mission. "We wanted to get away from being this window into the web that doesn't bring value," to users, she said.

"We looked at it from the perspective of how much value are we bringing to the user? We're not focused on bringing the most revenue into Mozilla," she said.

The Directory Tiles will appear only to new Firefox users, or people who have re-installed their browser, Herman said. Once the user has browsed enough to satisfy the needs of the "frecency" algorithm, which combines the frequency and recency with which the user visits a Web site, the Directory Tiles will be automatically replaced with content more relevant to the user. Herman said that this period is generally between 30 and 45 days for most new users.

Mozilla wants to turn its current New Tab page into something more useful for users, something Mozilla

Dixon-Thayer expressed concern that people might be confused by Mozilla accepting sponsored ads but she said it's no different than the company taking paid sponsorship of its default search engine.

"We're not at odds with having a commercial relationship with the digital media ecosystem out there," she said. Part of our mission is growing the Web, and part of growing the Web is bringing this content to the Web."

Getting out of the company's default search engine contracts, or foreseeing a point when they would end, was not an impetus for the Directory Tiles project, she said.

Mozilla has a reputation for attempting to protect users privacy while encouraging people to use the Web more. Herman said in his post that Directory Tiles would allow the company to create a user-centered advertising experience that doesn't rely on private data from the user and supplement Mozilla's income at the same time. So far, it sounds like Mozilla is avoiding the privacy pitfalls of data mining, although that's not entirely clear at this point.

Update at 4:55 p.m. PT with more details, additional comment from Mozilla, and a mock-up of Directory Tiles from Mozilla.