On Fat Plug and AMO

Nick Nguyen (osunick)

17


Recently, there’s been some discussion on our position regarding the Fat Plug ad platform and our editorial policy that prevents its inclusion in our add-on directory.  Since we believe that sustainability is a key component of a vibrant software ecosystem, it’s important for us to clarify our position for both add-on developers and end-users.

AMO is a directory of add-ons which meet our requirements for user experience, security, and code quality.  These add-ons are selected based on criteria consistent with our values as a public benefit organization dedicated to improving the internet.  Since listing is not a prerequisite for distribution, any add-on can be distributed without any involvement from AMO or Mozilla.

The Fat Plug business model

Fat Plug is a component that gives Firefox add-ons the ability to both insert new ads and replace existing ads on virtually any website.  The model involves including this component in successful Firefox add-ons, to use this success to ‘bootstrap’ advertising in web content to be shared between Fat Plug and the add-on author.  Since add-ons incorporating Fat Plug are largely unrelated to online advertising, it is difficult for users to discern that changes to web content has occurred, and nearly impossible for them to determine the connection between their altered web content and the add-on they installed.

The only indication that a user has installed Fat Plug is a Terms of Use dialog.

These Terms of Use are written on behalf of the original add-on, with only the fine print broadly describing what Fat Plug does.  There are no links or plain English descriptions of how this feature works, nor does it set expectations with users on what content gets changed. If the user declines the Terms of Use, the add-on is disabled.

Here are some examples to illustrate the Fat Plug functionality.

On search engines, Fat Plug inserts text advertising.

In this example, Fat Plug has replaced a BBC ad unit with one of its own.

This model relies on being bundled as a component on an otherwise attractive add-on, as it’s unlikely that a user would elect to install an add-on that does nothing but insert additional advertising into pages.  Since this functionality shares information with an invisible third party, is undesirable, and undetectable for all but the most advanced users, it is a violation of our No Surprises policy.

User choice

We believe that users have the right to control how they view content on the internet.  Add-ons allow users to remix and adapt the web according to their own needs.  Because these add-ons are entrusted with the ability to alter web content and access web services, it is important that users understand the intent of the add-ons they install, and that these add-ons adhere to a policy of informed consent.

Developer control

One thing that we’d like to make clear is that we aren’t preventing the development or distribution of Fat Plug add-ons.  We’ve made an editorial decision to exclude these add-ons from our directory, one that we believe is in the best interest of our users and developers.  Any add-on that uses the Fat Plug platform can be distributed separately from AMO, and we know that many add-ons distribute themselves without the involvement of AMO or any related Mozilla websites.

Commercial add-ons

We believe that a healthy add-on ecosystem reflects the internet as a whole- with both commercial and non-commercial elements.  It is often the interaction between the two that results in disruptive innovation, and we’ll continue to support this.  Add-ons with advertising are not prohibited on AMO, but we ask that this advertising is clearly marked and clearly associated with an add-on.  We also believe that add-on developers deserve to benefit directly from the success of their add-ons.  Plans for an add-on marketplace are underway, and we will communicate this plan in detail in the next couple of months, well in advance of its implementation.

17 responses

  1. Fritz wrote on :

    And it’s good that “No Surprises” is a AMO rule. I think that any add-on that has ads should be clearly marked and explained and I think it would behoove AMO to come up with way to best display that on the website. I imagine this could be done with Creative Commons like imaging and categorization: “Changes Ads in web content”, “Adds Ads to web content”, “Displays Ads in chrome”, etc.

    I also think you will need to start thinking ahead to the possibilities of add-ons designed to remove ads from other add-ons. I imagine if ads become more pervasive that this will happen and we don’t really want a repeat of the No Script / Ad Block Plus shenanigans.

  2. slsdf wrote on :

    My God, FatPlug is terrible. Thank you so much for not distributing it on AMO. That is truly a wise decision from Mozilla.

  3. Brecopol wrote on :

    Thank you for explaining the rationale for your decisions. Seems that it is time for FatBlock+?

    1. Andrew wrote on :

      FatBlock+ would be a pretty simple extension — the entire system can be disabled through the extensions.fatplug.enabled preference.

  4. Axel Hecht wrote on ::

    Yeah, YIKES.

    Reading the TOS, it sounds like FatPlug itself isn’t even sure that the thing they’re doing is legal. Or am I reading too much into it?

  5. Andy Burns wrote on :

    +5 to proper reasoning for keeping crud like this away from users.

  6. Andrew wrote on :

    “There are no links or plain English descriptions of how this feature works, nor does it set expectations with users on what content gets changed.”

    What about:

    “You acknowledge and agree that [the Extension] will alter your web browsing experience and specifically will replace the advertisements that would otherwise have been displayed to you on the web pages that you may browse.”

    Granted, it doesn’t go into the technical details of what the code does and how, but it does tell the users what it’s going to do — and of course, they have the opportunity to decline.

    Further, developers are allowed to add additional content to the terms and conditions as they see fit. I would be more worried about dialog-hardened users clicking out of the TAC before reading it.

    “If the user declines the Terms of Use, the add-on is disabled.”

    This is plain wrong.

    The add-on is not disabled, only the fatplug system. I incorporated FatPlug into an addon I developed for a client (not listed under my addons profile, of course), and as part of my testing, I declined the TAC. This action simply disabled the extensions.fatplug.enabled preference, which disabled the fatplug system from running — the addon itself continued to work just fine.

    I’ll agree that, as a user-focused developer, the entire idea leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I would (probably) never include this system in my own addons. I disagree, however, that it violates No Surprises or User Choice. To me, it feels like AMO is looking for excuses wherever it can find them to disallow fatplug.

    Also, regarding “add-ons designed to remove ads from other add-ons”, that’s ridiculous. Any addon with obtrusive ads (or “features”) has the potential to be ousted by a savvy developer that can duplicate the functionality without the annoyances.

    1. Justin Scott (fligtar) wrote on ::

      This is what I get when I decline the TOS: http://grab.by/3PCl

      The original statement seems accurate to me.

  7. Andrew wrote on :

    Alright, I understand how that could lead to definite confusion, but it’s a mistake in wording on FatPlug’s part. Declining the TAC (and clicking “OK” on the subsequent prompt) merely disables the fatplug system, and the addon still works full-force with no side effects.

    The terminology is actually probably carry-over from the integration process, since the terms code comes from an extension provided by fatplug to demonstrate fatplug’s features. Since that’s that addon’s only purpose, it makes sense *there* to say the addon would be disabled. Fatplug just doesn’t tell anyone to change the wording (something they need to think about).

    1. Andrew wrote on :

      Sorry, this was in response to Justin Scott (fligtar) above

  8. Michael Buckley wrote on ::

    IMHO if Mozilla added an add-on market place into AMO I think the desire for any extension to use this would disappear. Which I understand we will be seeing soon. So I have deiced that I am going to create a new version of some of my extensions with all the harder to do feature requests I have received in it, then try and sell that using my current version as the bait to attract attention. If I can get 0.5% of my downloads to result in a sale I should be able to live of that.

  9. Martijn wrote on ::

    Here, the author of HitWicket tells he implemented FatPlug into his extension: http://www.fatplug.com/support/forum/4-integration-questions/3-how-do-my-addon-users-get-fatplug-updates

    And here HitWicket is listed on AMO:
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/10830

    How are these posts related with what I read in this blog post? Are there still extensions on AMO that do include this FatPlug-framework? Or does the current version of HitWicket on AMO not yet include FatPlug?

    1. Andrew wrote on :

      You’ll notice that the latest version of that addon as of right now was released on July 5, 2009, whereas that post was made on March 27, 2010. So it’s most likely the AMO version doesn’t have FP integrated.

  10. Martijn wrote on ::

    I do not think that AMO should be used for this kind of promotion:

    “The idea is simple you give away a basic version of your add-on through AMO but on your splash page (show after download and every update) you push your premium version of the software. FoxyProxy (free version) has over 8 Million downloads through AMO.

    With FatPlug this model is a little different – instead of trying to convince users to BUY the premium version you are giving them a FREE UPGRADE! (doesn’t that sound great?) to the premium version of the add-on that is FatPlug enabled.”

    http://fatplug.com/blog/how-to-market-your-add-on-without-addonsmozillaorg.html

    This can’t be Mozilla’s idea of a market place for addons…

    1. Andrew wrote on :

      It’s not Mozilla’s idea. Fatplug is a different entity from Mozilla, and this is their offering of one way to advertise a fatplug-enabled version of your addon and dealing with the restriction of not being listed on AMO.

      The addon marketplace, I hear, will be coming out in the next release of the AMO website. Can’t wait to see what all it involves and how it will work.

  11. vajinismus wrote on ::

    thanks for all the info!

    1. Frank wrote on ::

      Yeah, thanks for the info. However I think it’s pretty shady and black hat to rewrite ad codes and parameters. In the end it’s fraud of the advertisers and should not be listed… Either via Plugin or via Toolbar – fraud stays fraud.