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Mozilla searches for more revenue, taps in-Firefox ads

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 13, 2014
Now dependent on Google for 88 percent of its revenue, browser maker will test ads out on new users.

Herman spoke earlier this week at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) annual leadership conference, talking up Mozilla's push into mobile with its Firefox OS and the new Directory Tiles ad opportunities.

Mozilla and online advertising groups, including the IAB, have crossed swords of late, especially over the now-moribund "Do Not Track" anti-monitoring initiative. When Mozilla last year said it would enable Do Not Track (DNT) by default in Firefox, online advertisers went ballistic.

Last July, Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB, accused Mozilla of being anti-business, hiding behind a veneer of populism and harboring "techno-libertarians and academic elites who believe in liberty and freedom ... as long as they get to decide the definitions of liberty and freedom."

Yet earlier this week, Rothenberg shared the stage with Herman at the IAB's conference.

Mozilla never pulled the trigger on its DNT-by-default plans for Firefox.

"We are gratified that Mozilla has a greater focus on digital ad products and welcome the opportunity to work more closely with them in this shared space," Mike Zaneis, the IAB's general counsel who also leads the group's public policy, said in a statement Wednesday.

But Bidel, of Forrester, did not see the tiles project as a turnabout by Mozilla from its opposition to ad tracking. "I haven't perceived Mozilla as anti-advertising," said Bidel. "They've been anti-cookie and anti-tracking, and critical of the lack of transparency. To me, that's what Mozilla's been."

But the reaction from some long-time Mozilla contributors was negative.

"To be clear, I am skeptical about the value of populating those blank tiles in general, but it is specifically the notion of 'sponsored' tiles that is a terrible idea, which we should immediately recant, possibly to the extent of claiming that it was a joke, even if it wasn't," wrote Zach Weinberg on a planning discussion forum hosted by Mozilla. Weinberg is a security researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who formerly was a platform engineer at Mozilla.

Weinberg and some others objected to the idea of ads within Firefox, seeing the move as a step on a slippery slope that could result in future data mining of users' browsing.

In truth, Mozilla is already toying with something similar. In December, the group announced it was pilot-testing what it called "user personalized content," which would include ads, based on Firefox's browser history.

Others on the same thread -- including several current Mozilla managers and executives -- defended the Directory Tiles concept against critics like Weinberg.

"Can privacy-preserving ad targeting be done? I'm genuinely not sure, but we're never going to be able to find out if we simply said, 'We will never do targeted ads,'" wrote Gervase Markham, whose title is "Governator," whatever that means, at Mozilla.


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