Mozilla Scraps In-Firefox Ads

Not the ‘right business for us at this time,’ says top ad exec as Mozilla abandons its two-year project.


Mozilla on Friday said it would check out of its plan to advertise within Firefox, giving the explanation that the money-making strategy “isn’t the right business for us at this time.” The turn-about puts on hold, if not practically terminating, a two-year project to go about expanding the open-source browser’s revenue stream way across the one it has depended on for years: contracts with search providers.

“We have … made the decision to stop advertising in Firefox through the Tiles experiment in order to focus on content discovery,” wrote Darren Herman, Mozilla’s vice president of content services, in a post to a Mozilla blog Friday. Herman, a former advertising executive and venture capitalist, joined Mozilla in 2013 to kick-start the in-browser ad project. “Advertising in Firefox could be a great business, but it isn’t the right business for us at this time because we want to focus on core experiences for our users,” Herman continued. “We want to reimagine content experiences and content discovery in our products.”


However, Herman didn’t particularly specify that Firefox is entirely pulling out of advertising. “Mozilla will continue to explore ways to bring a better balance to the advertising ecosystem for everyone’s benefit, and to build successful products that respect user privacy and deliver experiences based upon transparency, choice and control,” he said.

If Mozilla does at some point return to the in-browser ad idea, it will be without Herman: On Friday, he announced he is leaving Mozilla at the end of the month. Mozilla first brought up the idea of working ads in Firefox in February 2014 when it had embarked on the launch of the “Directory Tiles” concept.

The idea then was straight-forward: When new users started Firefox, they would see pre-populated tiles, some of them “sponsored” — in effect advertisements — on the New Tab page. For an extended span of time, that page would go on to reveal the most-frequently-visited websites.

When it unveiled the Tiles idea, Mozilla had agreed to the fact that they were on the look out for ways to to expand revenue, which going back to history had been really below the belt from search providers, and until late 2014, almost exclusively from Google. By November, 2014, “sponsored” tiles — in English, advertisements — were coining up in Firefox. As at that interval, Mozilla also uncovered the approach that it would also show ads — although it had tagged them “Enhanced Tiles” at the time — to long-time Firefox users and newcomers.

That came about in May 2015, when Mozilla had re-packaged its ad push as “Suggested Tiles,” and published advertisements which would begin appearing in all Firefox users’ browsers by the summer. “We want to show the world that it is possible to do relevant advertising and content recommendations while still respecting users’ privacy and giving them control over their data,” Herman said at the time.

At first, Herman added, users would be able to view the advertisements for “Mozilla causes and Firefox products,” but as time went on the slots were to be filled by advertisers’ wares. On Friday in the most recent edition of Firefox, it was evident that just one tile with the “sponsored” label on the browser’s New Tab came up.

The tile directed to BarkBox, a website that operates the sales of dog treats and toys. Going by Herman on Friday, Mozilla will “wind down this experiment over the next few months.” While the concept of running ads in Firefox was not adequately contrasting to its professed mission of “a better Internet,” it ran up contrary to what many users had expected who had were immensely attracted to — and stuck with — Firefox because it surely occupied the position of the biggest solution to browsers built by giant tech companies, like Apple, Google and Microsoft, all of whom — Google in particular — make money on ads.

The move to send the Tiles project to the garbage may have been drawn from the pushback from users,most particularly from within the Mozilla volunteer community — which Mozilla takes heavy support from — as well as a deficiency in interest on the side of advertisers, or most comprehensively an addition of all of the above.

There is that feasible possibility that Firefox may not have been an attractive platform for large-scale advertisers for the fact that its market share of browsers has been on the downhill. But then on a sharp contrast, Firefox’s user share — a proxy for the percentage of the world’s PC owners who use it to reach the Web — had sustained a big leap in November.

Following the lead of metrics vendor Net Applications, Firefox’s user share had jumped by almost a full percentage point last month to 12.2%, erasing almost all of the losses it sustained over the previous 12 months.

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