User Personalization and User Sovereignty

Tristan Nitot

Eighteen months ago, Mitchell baker posted an article on her blog: User Sovereignty for our Data where you could read the following:

Right now there’s no convenient way for me to share information about myself and maintain control over that information. I share information about myself by putting it someplace where someone else makes all the rules. That “someone else” is the application.

How can I share some information without knowing what is shared, knowing that not sharing information about myself implies that I cannot get personalized content?

Jay Sullivan explains:

Mozilla aspires to enable personalization — the customization of ads, content, recommendations, offers and more — that doesn’t rely on the user being in the dark about who has access to that information, and with whom that information is shared.

Earlier today, my colleagues from the Mozilla Labs published a very interesting User Personalization Proposal for Firefox. I encourage you to go a read it, it’s fascinating.

Here is an excerpt:

Last year, the Mozilla Labs Prospector team conducted a series of experiments in which a user’s browsing history could be matched with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking. Users opted in to these experiments, which transparently showed the user these perceived interests to help them gain insight into how they spend time online. But what if these interests were also available for the user to share with the websites they visit to get a better, more personalized browsing experience?

As part of these experiments, our Labs team has been thinking about ways in which content creators and consumers could benefit from Web-based interests. For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible. Destinations like the Firefox Marketplace could recommend recipe and movie apps, even if it’s my first time visiting that site. And, as a user, I would have complete control over which of my interests are shared, and with which websites.

For now, we’re just very early in the process. I’ll leave the conclusion to Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s General Counsel:

As the Labs post indicated, we are currently in an experimental phase and there are lots of assumptions that need to be tested. Upcoming tests will provide further insights and of course we will adjust over time. All in all, we think this is a promising solution to satisfy both individuals’ and publishers’ needs, in a way that creates a better, more transparent and more valuable Web experience.

Yes, it’s just an lab experiment for now, but I’m very proud to see Mozilla think ahead and innovate in order to tackle the difficult issue of user’s control over their data while enjoying a personalized user experience.