Firefox has been receiving backlash from fans regarding its decision to incorporate ads into its “new tab” screen. Currently, if a user opens a new tab, their most visited websites appear in tiles on the page. Mozilla, the browser’s parent company, has put out statements to reassure its fan base that there will be some type of control given to users in their new advertising program. The VP of Mozilla, Johnathan Nightingale, has since explained that these ads will be incorporated into the screen with new installations of Firefox, as new users do not have any website data that can be shown on these tiles. Mozilla plans to begin testing this plan in the near future, but the company’s inclusion of these ads looks too much like the controversial use of sponsored ads that Facebook began in 2012.
While Mozilla has stated that the ads they are planning on incorporating in their browser will have user control and feedback enabled, it is understandable that users of Firefox might see this as a slippery slope. Because Mozilla does not have the same financial base that its competitors, Google and Microsoft, have to support its browser, a successful run of these ads may lead to further expansion of ad placement as a means of revenue for the company. While these sponsored ads may be necessary, Firefox’s use of them could begin to look a lot like Facebook. Considering the history of other ads in similar situations, it is no surprise that users are worried about the potential for this to snowball into a situation like Facebook’s, which led to such outcry so bad that the social networking site was the subject of a class-action lawsuit due to the ads.
The frustration with ads on supposedly “free” software is something that has been experienced with smartphone apps for some time. Apps need some source of revenue, so those that are “free” include ads as a means of gaining back the money that is lost by not charging for its use. Firefox seems to have reached the point at which it must do this in order to survive against its competitors, who have more funding and can afford to forego this practice. Opera, a less mainstream browser, has used this ad placement to generate money for some time, but Mozilla’s popularity among internet users has made this issue a bigger deal among the internet community. Coming from the company that has been historically against ad promotion, even including options for users to block ads in the Firefox program, the inclusion of ads seems hypocritical.
Facebook has already incurred difficulties and controversy over sponsored ads on its website, and Mozilla should tread lightly in the territory of including ads on its pages. Finding inventive ways to include ads may be essential for Firefox to maintain sufficient funds, but Mozilla should make sure that the inclusion of sponsored ads does not lead towards a controversy that looks like what happened to Facebook. While Facebook was able to handle the cost of a lawsuit with its significant revenue stream and relative dominance of the social media market, Firefox does not have this same luxury. One mis-step could lead to a massive exodus of users to one of its competitors.
Opinion by Joseph Chisarick