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Your Firefox New Tab page now displays ads. The Mozilla foundation believes that Suggested Tiles, sponsored by third parties, could revolutionize direct and relevant advertisement because the ads are less intrusive and visually pleasing. Could browsers really become a better advertising platform than websites?
We show you where you will find ads in Firefox, explain why they are there, and how you can turn them off in case you’re not convinced of their benefit.
Previously on Firefox
The Firefox New Tab page used to be intentionally blank. In 2012, Mozilla ditched the minimalism and started populating the page with thumbnails of your most frequently and recently visited websites. In 2014, Mozilla replaced thumbnails with tiles and partnered with CVS Health in the US and Booking.com globally to offer sponsored Directory Tiles for users not yet burdened by a browsing history; typically fresh installations with no browsing history. Darren Herman, VP of Content Services at Mozilla explained how it works.
Tiles (…) create a more useful, attractive and dynamic new tab page. Tiles also represent an important part of our efforts to create new communications, content and advertising experiences over which Firefox users maintain control. — Darren Herman
Once users have a sufficient browsing history, Directory Tiles are replaced by Enhanced Tiles, which show users their most recent and most visited pages.
Earlier this year, Mozilla announced it would introduce Suggested Tiles to the New Tab page of current users, i.e. sponsored tiles that you may find interesting because they relate to your browsing history.
In his blog post from November 2014, Darren Herman wrote that sponsored content shown in tiles would be results-based. “We do not allow tracking beacons or code in Tiles. We are not collecting, or providing [partners] with the data about you that most digital ad networks do.” To provide users with relevant ads, however, someone needs to collect personalized information. To that end, Mozilla provided an infographic that details how your browsing information is processed and anonymized before being shared with partners.
During the Beta, Mozilla tested the feature with ads for its own causes and Firefox products. Suggested Tiles from content partners were quietly rolled out to US Firefox users in August 2015, followed by other locations throughout the summer. If the feature has been rolled out to your Firefox browser, you should be seeing clearly labeled ads on your New Tab page.
Why Does Mozilla Sell Firefox Ad Space
Mozilla has a vision for a new form of advertisement. The foundation believes that it can act as a trusted intermediary between advertisers and end users, thereby increasing transparency and winning user consent. As such, Mozilla takes it upon itself to select trustworthy partners, manage user data, and then pair users with relevant ads from sponsors. In its advertising model, Mozilla is positioning itself as the trusted privacy guard that’s protecting its users from annoying ads.
Much of today’s digital advertising utilizes data harvested through a user’s browsing habits to target ads. However, many consumers are increasingly weary of how their data is being collected and shared in the advertising ecosystem without transparency and consent – and complex opt-outs or unreadable privacy policies exacerbate this. Many users even block advertisements altogether. This situation is bad for users, bad for advertisers and bad for the Web. — Darren Herman
On the one hand, Mozilla hopes to make ads less intrusive and annoying for users, by removing the shotgun approach typically found in online advertising. On the other side, partners pay to place ads, which helps sustain Mozilla’s operations and keeps products like Firefox free.
Should You Support Mozilla Ads in Firefox?
The Mozilla foundation has a vested interest in offering only those ads it believes its users will appreciate. Mozilla hopes you will trust it to guard your privacy and make the right choices, i.e. select trustworthy partners and show you ads you will find helpful. At the same time, the foundation wants you to know that you are in control.
We believe users should be able [to] easily understand what content is promoted, who it is from and why they are seeing it. It is the user who owns the profile: only a Firefox user can edit their own browsing history. And for users who do not want to see Suggested Tiles, opting out only takes two clicks from the New Tab page, without having to read a lot of instructions. — Darren Herman
Firefox is a free product, arguably the most privacy-conscious browser on the market, and Mozilla is committed to offering a pristine experience to its users. If you wish to support the Mozilla foundation or Firefox, the easiest thing you can do is to keep those ads enabled. If you do find suggested pages distracting or annoying, however, you can turn them off anytime.
How You Can Take Control of the New Tab Page
Removing suggested or sponsored tiles couldn’t be easier. Click the + icon to open a new tab, select the cogwheel in the top right, and deselect Include suggested sites. Done.
If you do not wish to see any tiles, select Show blank page.
You can also make these changes in about:config. Search for browser.newtagpage.enhanced and browser.newtabpage.enabled to toggle suggested sites and a blank new tab page, respectively. Double-click the respective value to set it to false to get the same result as described above.
Do You Trust Mozilla to Manage Ads Responsibly?
By basically turning itself into an ad network, the Mozilla foundation has taken on a huge responsibility. Mozilla understands how uncomfortable ads can be for users and it has set high standards for itself. Mozilla is also being transparent about this new venture, trying to appease users and win their support. If the foundation succeeds and keeps all its promises, it could be for the benefit of everyone using Firefox and other Mozilla products.
We would love to hear your point of view! Did you notice the sponsored tiles and what did you think of them? What makes you trust Mozilla or turn suggested tiles off? Please share with us in the comments.