Mozilla founder Mitchell Baker defends controversial decision to put paid ads in Firefox, following user backlash

Mozilla founder Mitchell Baker and its chief legal counsel, Denelle Dixon-Thayer, have publicly defended the controversial decision to insert paid advertising into its popular Firefox web browser software following user backlash over the move.

As SmartCompany reported yesterday, the advertisements would appear on the “Directory Tiles” screen, a grid of nine shortcut buttons that appear when a user first opens a new window or tab.

In a statement, Baker says she understands the ham-fisted approach to in-browser advertising used by Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer during the late ‘90s has made many web users reluctant to accept advertising as part of their web browsers.

“Firefox came out of a world in which both Netscape/AOL (the alma mater of many early Mozillians) and Microsoft had valued their content and revenue sources over the user experience.

“Those of us from Netscape/AOL had seen features, bookmarks, tabs, and other irritants added to the product to generate revenue. We’d seen [web browser] code subsequently ‘enhanced’ with these features.

“And so we have a very strong, very negative reaction to any activities that even remotely remind us of this approach to product. That’s good.”

Baker says that, unlike earlier approaches to in-browser advertising, Directory Tiles are an unobtrusive way for the web technology firm to generate revenue.

“The gist of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like nine Tiles on a page, and that two or three of them would be sponsored — aka “ads.” So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka “ads”) could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes.

“These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.

“Why would we include any sponsored results? If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value.”

In a second statement, Dixon-Thayer says the advertisements will “add value” to the user experience and help to open up the web.

“As a Mozillian, I’m proud that each new product discussion begins by asking whether it creates value to our users. It is a part of who we are and is what makes us different. Our initiatives are always aimed at maximizing our mission of making the Web open and accessible.”

The move is the latest in a string of new product announcements from Mozilla in recent months, which have also included an app launcher interface for Android, a partnership with Panasonic for Firefox OS smart TVs, low-cost Firefox OS-powered desktop PCs, tablets, and the cloud-based Firefox Accounts service.

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