Way back in 2014, Firefox rolled out an unpopular feature to its nightly builds: sponsored tiles on its “new tab” page. The feature, which was opt-in by default, showed ads that were based on your browsing history. Eventually, after a very long beta testing period, the sponsored tiles were loosed upon all 500 million-or-so Firefox users in May this year.
Now, just a few months later, the feature is being retired. Sponsored tiles will continue to appear for the next few months while Mozilla “fulfils its commitments” (i.e. clears out ad inventory), but then they’ll be gone entirely. Writing on the official Mozilla blog, vice president Darren Herman explains that, “advertising in Firefox could be a great business, but it isn’t the right business for us at this time because we want to focus on core experiences for our users.”
Later in the blog post, which was probably published on Friday afternoon in an attempt to dodge the news cycle, Herman repeats the refrain that we’ve heard many times over the last few years: “We believe that the advertising ecosystem needs to do better … Mozilla will continue to explore ways to bring a better balance to the advertising ecosystem for everyone’s benefit, and to build successful products that respect user privacy and deliver experiences based upon transparency, choice and control.”
In the meantime, Herman says that Mozilla wants to “reimagine content experiences and content discovery in our products.” As for what these reimaginations might look like though, we have no idea. Firefox did recently launch on iOS, however, so that’s something. Instead of sponsored tiles, maybe the new tab page will somehow suggest new sites for you to visit, based on your browsing history and category selections? Kind of like a mini in-browser Reddit?.
Firefox’s targeted sponsored tiles always seemed a little out of place for a browser that is essentially predicated on free, libertarian ideals. You can’t exactly blame Mozilla for trying, though. Since its inception, Mozilla has been entirely reliant on revenues from search engines. For years, Google paid Mozilla hundreds of millions of dollars to be Firefox’s default search engine. In recent years, Mozilla has diversified its search engine defaults—Yahoo is now the default in the US, Yandex in Russia, and Baidu in China—but according to its 2014 financial report, 98 percent of its revenue still came from these search engine deals. If something dramatic causes those deals to fall through, Mozilla does ideally need another way of making money.
Speaking of which, just like Wikipedia, Mozilla’s annual donation drive is currently live: when you open up Firefox, you’ll be greeted with a screen that asks you for a donation. If you want to donate money, but the plea doesn’t appear in your browser, you can donate directly on the Mozilla website.