Mozilla says that sponsored contextual offers from partners will now appear in the Firefox address bar. This feature was introduced in Firefox 92 in September, and the funds raised through this will go towards funding development and optimization.
“Starting with Firefox 92, you will receive new and up-to-date offers from our trusted partners based on what you are looking for. No new [user] data is collected, stored or transmitted to make these new recommendations, ”reads the organization’s blog post.
Although the first blog posts about the Firefox Suggest functionality ( 1 , 2 ) were published back in September, the first mentions of this feature in the Firefox changelog appeared only a couple of days ago, with the release of Firefox 93. In these posts, the developers refer to Firefox Suggest “more a fast way to navigate the web ”that helps people find“ relevant information and sites ”faster.
“Firefox Suggest will enhance [search] by incorporating other sources of information such as Wikipedia, Pocket articles, reviews, and credible sponsored content from trusted partners and organizations.”
Mozilla emphasizes that it will only work with partners who comply with Firefox’s privacy standards, with adMarketplace being the preferred partner for the time being.
For now, you can refuse such advertising tips . In essence, they will be displayed only after the user provides access to new data types by clicking Allow suggestions when prompted, or manually selects the types of displayed suggestions in the settings (Settings -> Privacy & Security -> Address Bar -> Firefox Suggest).
Although Mozilla describes Firefox Suggest as a purely voluntary feature that only the user can agree to use, Bleeping Computer reporters write that they conducted their own tests (based on user complaints ) and found this functionality enabled by default. The researchers also noticed that some of the offers looked like advertising (for example, like Retoro in the screenshot below), but they were not marked accordingly, and Mozilla said that these organizations are not their partners.
The publication says that when Firefox Suggest is enabled, user searches are sent to Mozilla’s servers, and suggestions that the user clicks on are sent to partners through Mozilla’s own proxy service, the sources of which are available on GitHub .
“The data that we transfer to partners does not contain personal information, and is transmitted only when you see an offer or click on it,” assure Mozilla.
In a separate message to the Mozilla blog described in detail what data an organization collects about users and partners can transmit. Basically, this is information about clicks on specific advertising offers, location data (at the city level) and information about the interaction of people with Firefox Suggest, which “can be shared with partners to improve the content offered.”
Bleeping Computer reporters posed a few questions to the developers to better understand how Firefox Suggest works.
For example, Mozilla said that Firefox Suggest has three modes: history, offline and online. The story mode was introduced in the 92nd version of the browser, where history, bookmarks and open tab management was renamed to Firefox Suggest. The offline offline mode was also rolled out in Firefox 92 and includes sponsorship offers from a local file, but does not offer access to new data types.
Online mode, according to the developers, is still a “small experiment” available only in desktop versions of Firefox in the United States. The collection of data necessary for the operation of this function is only possible if the user explicitly consents to participate in this study.
However, in story mode, Firefox Suggest is enabled by default globally, and offline mode is enabled by default only in the US. That is, users outside of the United States can only use the Suggestions feature in the context of their local browser history, bookmarks, and open tabs.
This innovation is likely an attempt to expand Mozilla’s revenue streams, as the lion’s share of the organization’s annual revenue comes from a deal with Google (made in November 2017) that makes Google the default search engine in Firefox in the US, Canada and Hong Kong, and in Taiwan.
Mozilla also recently introduced the so-called “sponsored tiles” that can be seen on the home page and new tab page in Firefox. They are also used to promote content provided by advertising partners (but Mozilla only gets paid when a user clicks on one of the tiles).
According to GlobalStats Statcounter, Firefox currently holds 3.67% of the global browser market, compared with 65.15% for Google Chrome and 18.4% for Apple Safari.
Catch up on more stories here