Mozilla seems to be once more trying to redefine, or at least restructure, itself when it comes to its financial situation, particularly its sources of income. Barely weeks after it proudly revealed that it was no longer dependent on revenue coming from Google searches in its Firefox browser, the foundation is closing another source of revenue. It is announcing that it is putting a stop to its Suggested Tiles feature, more unpopularly known as Tile Ads, a major source of contention within its community and user base.
Although announced months in advanced, it was only in September that Mozilla actually rolled out Suggested Tiles, despite mounting opposition from Firefox users and supporters. The feature basically ads inside blank tiles in Firefox’s New Tab page. Not exactly like the web ads you see embedded in web pages, these are more like suggestions, hence the name, which websites to go to, based on the user’s own browsing history.
That last bit is what’s bugging Firefox users. It’s not that they don’t want Mozilla to earn money, since they should be aware of the costs of developing and supporting Firefox on this large a scale. Their beef is in how Mozilla is trying to raise that money and what these Suggested Tiles do. As they are based on user habits, it involves an amount of user tracking. No matter how much or how well Mozilla explains the system or reassures how safe and private it is, the whole thing still smells antithetical to Mozilla’s self-professed commitment to meaningful user experience without compromising privacy and security.
That said, Mozilla isn’t completely closing its doors on advertising as a money maker, just that now is not the right time for it. And tiles are probably not the best place for it either. It will continue investigating on how to best implement that, and earn money in turn, while not irking its community again.
To be clear, only Suggested Tiles are ending. Mozilla’s Directory Tiles will continue to appear in New Tabs. This means that for users completely new to Firefox, they will see some Mozilla-specific tiles as well as some suggestions, though these tiles will eventually give way to visited sites once the new user has started using the browser more.