No Free Lunch

Over the last week or so there has been considerable discussion of the proposed plan to include some advertising in the first-run experience of Firefox for new users (Directory Tiles).  There is still considerable work and ideas to complete by others and in myself as a Program Manager for Security and Privacy.

We’ve accepted advertising in communication media for some time now. Both traditional radio and television are supported by advertising which we readily accept in exchange for content. This of course has been a passive model as without work said advertiser cannot gauge the audience.  This advertising for content model has largely extended to the web with some obvious modifications. The use of various technologies on the web has allowed advertisers to gain far more knowledge and to target advertising to a deemed a willing or desired audience. This tracking and data aggregation is also what gives most users concern over Internet advertising. We don’t really want advertisers knowing things about us that does not have an obvious benefit to us. I believe it’s safe to say that we accept advertising for content within certain confines. I also can’t imagine how much worse the Internet would be if everything  were behind a pay wall. The open, shared, connected, and hackable Internet would be far worse and much less usable. So, the fact is advertising pays for the Internet, or at the least a large part of it. Yes we can use add-ons and scripts to hide ads, and as users that is our choice. If everyone did that all the time I think we could agree the Internet that would result would be far worse for all. As an example see the message that shows up to visitors of Reddit when add blocking extensions are used (or at least used to). There is a trade-off here t0 be made and this is where I think Mozilla has a lot to offer.

Mozilla has what I would call an excellent track record of introducing disruptive technologies for the betterment of humanity. We started with the browser in a time when there was only one browser, a lot of people have forgotten that time. We’ve successfully proven that an open source, community driven project can change the web. We’ve  shown that the web authentication model can be done in a privacy protecting way, hence Persona. I’m quite surprised that people don’t think that we can improve Internet advertising in a way that benefits both parties, both parties being advertisers and users. We’re opening our eyes with add-ons like Lightbeam so users can make informed choices about what they want to share and with whom. There should be a motivation for both myself and the advertiser that is open and available for the sharing of information that leads to mutual benefit.  This is part of building the Internet that the world needs. One where privacy is at the forefront in all things.

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Posted in Mozilla
13 comments on “No Free Lunch
  1. nnethercote says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I can’t emphasise how much the initial negative reaction was due to the incredibly marketing-y/buzzwordy nature of the original announcement. I lost count of the number of comments I read that basically said “I can understand why Mozilla is doing this, but why are they using such BS language about it?”

    A straight-up “we’re looking for new ways to earn money, here’s one that seems reasonable, and we’ll be careful w.r.t. privacy and all that” post would have gone over much better.

    • curtisko says:

      I think we can give Darren a bit of a break, he’s new to Mozilla and came from advertising. That’s the language he speaks and getting your Mozilla vocabulary takes a while. It took me a good while to drop some of the corporate speak when I arrived.

      • Boris says:

        Yes, but isn’t that why we’re supposed to run things like that by the press folks?

      • curtisko says:

        My understanding for our team is we only run controversial stuff past them. Maybe they did, not sure if they would have adjusted for language. My interactions normally center on whether we’ll get press attention or how this might be viewed if competitors are mentioned. We also avoid setting policy that does not exist. I’m not a huge fan of “voice control” hence most of my blogging occurs here and not on “official” channels.

      • Boris says:

        Seems to me like press adjusting for language in cases like this would be _incredibly_ useful.

        And this was clearly going to get press attention no matter what…

        I agree that dealing with press can be a pain, but it’s _really_ worth checking with them any time someone plans to speak for “Mozilla” as a whole.

      • tom jones says:

        “That’s the language he speaks and getting your Mozilla vocabulary takes a while. ”
        i disagree, this is not about “mozilla vocabulary”, or “JS speak” as Michelle put it in the town hall, this is about “normal-people vocabulary”, or “straight, no-bullshit speak” that not just mozillians, but all our users, rightfully, expect from us.

      • curtisko says:

        You’re welcome to disagree, I counter with our tagline (or whatever it’s called) is “Many Voices, One Mozilla” not “One Voice, Many Mozillians”. I think we recognize that all people have a right to be heard in the voice they are most comfortable with. That often means that we should then have respectful dialogue so that each of us can then come to an understanding with our own voices. We are a diverse background, and that’s a huge positive! But it also means we have to have some effort to understand one another.

      • Boris says:

        There is a difference between being heard and officially speaking for the organization and for others.

        I don’t know about you, but I was _very_ uncomfortable to have someone claiming to represent me speaking in the voice involved here.

      • curtisko says:

        It actually didn’t bother me. I remember when they introduced him at the Monday meeting, I had some idea from that of what he was going to be working on. I looked up his background in advertising and oriented myself to what I thought he was at Mozilla to do. So when the announcement was posted I read it through that filter and carefully parsed what was being said knowing all of that. I also have enough trust in Mozilla as an organization that if it truly were some harebrained idea that we would talk it out as an organization and come to the right course of action for the project and for users.

      • Boris says:

        Again, that’s all fine in internal discussions. But most people outside of Mozilla have none of that context and sure don’t do any careful parsing, ever. Which is why we’re supposed to run things by press, again: to make sure that what we’re saying can’t be misconstrued by reading it carelessly.

      • curtisko says:

        I don’t know if this was or was not run by press, one way or the other it’s going to be a good learning experience for us in how we communicate and how our voice is heard.

      • Boris says:

        I really hope it is… Unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve done something like this, so we seem to not have learned much from the previous times. :(

      • curtisko says:

        Possibly, but we are a rapidly growing and changing organization. Lets all try to show a little understanding and compassion and find the path through this that help the project and our users best.

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