Content Services Team Adds New Talent With Partnerships (and Mozilla) Experience

Darren Herman


Earlier this year I wrote about how 2015 will be a big year for Mozilla to scale and build better personalized experiences as we help move the ad industry forward. Today, I’m excited to announce two new additions to our Content Services team as we continue our mission to create innovative content offerings while always upholding Mozilla’s commitment to user privacy.

Accomplished interactive advertising expert Aaron Lasilla has joined Mozilla and our Content Services team as head of content partnerships. Aaron comes to us from EA Games where he served as the global director of brand solutions and co-founded the in-game advertising group. Aaron was instrumental in negotiating and securing a number of strategic partnerships for EA’s publishing division as he built the group it into a new business and revenue channel for EA, including the largest EA Online partnership ever (within’s casual games offering, in 2003). During his tenure, EA was established as the number one publisher of integrated advertising placements and partnership in and around games. Aaron previously managed Microsoft’s Premium Games Advertising offering and also worked in sales and sponsorship capacities for Double Fusion, Clear Channel Entertainment and Kemper Sports Marketing.

As we continue to develop and refine our new offerings like Firefox Tiles, Aaron will be focusing on engagement and value exchange for Mozilla’s offerings while maintaining the same quality and standards of user experience that Mozilla is known for.

In addition, I’m excited to formally announce that long-time Mozillian Patrick Finch joined our group late last year as director of marketing. Patrick has been with Mozilla for over seven years based out of Sweden and has worked in a number of strategic roles on Mozilla’s desktop and mobile projects over that time. Prior to joining Mozilla Patrick spent over ten years at Sun Microsystems in a variety of capacities including working on numerous open source projects.

As we continue the rollout of Firefox Tiles and bring on new partners, you’ll probably be seeing more of Aaron and Patrick on this blog. If you’re interested in partnering with us in our mission or if you’d just like to drop our team a line, feel free to reach out to us at

Aaron Lassila

Aaron Lassila

Patrick Finch

Patrick Finch


Mozilla’s mission in the context of digital advertising

Darren Herman


Mozilla is many things, best defined as a global, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing opportunity and innovation on the internet. But we’re also known as a browser vendor and browser vendors are often perceived by the ad tech community only as inconveniences.  As Gregory Cristal puts it in his book Ad Serving Technology, “The browser remains an unknowable force working by its own rules which the whole industry has learned to adapt to over time.”

In my experience, ad tech doesn’t often celebrate the rapid pace of development in the browser space – something that Mozilla kick-started with Firefox in 2004, by the way. Competition among browsers has lead to advances in the Web that are easily overlooked: advances in performance, in interactive content, in graphics and audio, not to mention in user interface design all of which have grown the digital market.  But for all this common interest, browser vendors and ad tech companies have historically had little collaboration.

We want to change that.

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting and just last week Denelle, our SVP of Business and Legal Affairs, took the stage with IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg at the IAB’s event at Mobile World Congress.  When I think about some of the biggest issues facing the ad tech industry that came up in these discussions, questions such as the fight against fraud, viewability, the challenge of mobile and of the appropriate use of data, I feel that the Mozilla project is very well placed to make a positive contribution.

Mozilla’s interest in the Web economy is fundamental to what we do.  The Web is free to implement, free to publish on, is cross platform and offers opportunities for many.  No other medium shares these properties.  As Mitchell puts it, “The World Wide Web is the greatest tool for knowledge sharing and collaboration we have ever seen”.   That’s why Mozilla invests in developing open standards, in fighting censorship, and in advancing the Web on mobile devices, and it’s why we are now becoming actively involved in the digital ad space.  Advertising, after all, is the principal way that this great resource is funded.

Although the Web has gone from a novelty to something we cannot imagine our lives without in under two decades (at least, for those of us who can remember a world before the Web!), we should never take it for granted.  Standards, the platforms and formats that govern large parts of the internet economy, are forming very quickly – so quickly that we might not even think of these things as standards.  These “de facto” standards make their owners very rich and create empires.  20 years ago, Microsoft was that empire.  If you wanted to make application software, it had to run on Windows, because that was where the users were.  And if you wanted to buy a computer that had applications available, you had to buy a Windows PC.  Today, similar power rests with Apple and Google.  These companies have created huge markets and delivered great innovations, but they also exercise huge levels of control.

But the Web is not centrally planned, it has grown organically.  It has very low barriers to entry and light regulation which is a perfect formula for innovation.  

Publishing, letting your audience find you and monetizing that audience through advertising has become the dominant way of publishing online.  We’ve become so used to this model that professional online media is almost entirely dependent on advertising.  We exchange our attention and some information about ourselves for access to content.  But fast-moving, unregulated markets often create externalities, costs we all bear, and having spent my career in digital, I can certainly name a lot of them!  Page design can suffer because of adverts, editorial policy may skew to deliver impressions.  Fraud is rife in online advertising.  And advertising has created a huge secondary market in data about users, often without anyone’s explicit consent.

It’s this market for data that is probably most concerning about our industry today.  As Denelle commented last year, trust should be the currency.  This should be a transparent value exchange.  Users should understand how their data is being used, and have control over that usage and understand what they are getting in exchange for it.  This is all too often not the case.

Browser vendors, browser extension makers and privacy activists have responded to the needs of users by delivering many different approaches to protecting their privacy on the Web.  The W3C first recommended P3P back in 2002, and since then we’ve seen ad blocking browser extensions, tracking protection lists, vigorous debate about third party cookies, and the FTC backing for a Do Not Track (DNT) system.  Mozilla was a major contributor to the DNT mechanism, hoping it would give the ad industry a way to understand and honor a consumer’s choice.  Sadly, we’ve yet to see great uptake across publishers.  We will continue to work in this space, finding ways for consumers to express and to enforce their right to privacy online.

Our commitment to protect users and their data, and deliver them ways to opt out of experiences they do not desire will never waver.  As important as such tools are, we cannot expect to incentivize the ad tech industry solely by being, as Gregory Cristal puts it, an “unknowable force”.  There are parts of the industry which are investing in such harmful measures as canvas fingerprinting or super-cookies. We have to offer better alternatives, and set better standards.

And so when I hear privacy advocates saying that it is the role of the browser to deliver tools for the user to protect their privacy, I agree.  And when I hear Randall Rothenberg saying that browser vendors have a responsibility to our culture and to our economy, I agree.  I do not believe that these aims are in direct conflict.  We need advertising experiences that work for advertisers and publishers, but that also respect the wishes – the agency – of the user.  The user needs to be at the center of the experience, and their desires must be respected in the value exchange.

Facilitating this discussion and bridging the gap between these two groups is a job for Mozilla because this is what we do. We fight for the Web and deliver users sovereignty over their experience.  We’ve proven our ability to move markets in helping the open Web break out from the Windows desktop. We’ve implemented and standardized countless Web technologies. We’ve advocated for open Web video codecs while helping groups move away from less secure, closed technologies such as Flash.  And we create impact for our partners, such as our recent deal with Yahoo! that’s creating the first real movement in the US search market share in years.

I believe the future for digital advertising is fascinating.  The first dot-com boom delivered access to millions of consumers through eCommerce, generating huge advances in making signals of supply and demand more efficient.  “Web 2.0” gave us participation online, as individuals put our creative works online, we connected with each other.  The move to mobile has seen this participation commercialised, as mobile services created micro-producers in a variety of industries.

What’s next?  A glance at what the big internet companies are doing all points to a certain direction: Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Amazon’s Echo point to a future where direct response advertising will be more contextual and directed by the user’s control.  A future that is described by some as “intent casting”, where the user is in control of the demand signal they generate.

But the big question is this: will that future be mediated by the vertical integration of Apple or Microsoft, the horizontal ubiquity of Google and Amazon, or the open market of the Web?  Will it be an open market, or a walled garden?  The Mozilla project is at its best when we create products that embody our values and can bring partners into our community.  And we have to do just that in this space: monetization and advertising on the Web must evolve to respect the user.


Request for Innovation: Content and Ad Tech

Darren Herman


We founded the Content Services group at Mozilla in order to build user-first content experiences and services within the Firefox browser that:

  • Respect user choice
  • Respect user data
  • Provide user value
  • Where possible, create new revenue opportunities for Mozilla and our partners

We have delivered Tiles in Firefox and have successfully tested some content partnerships. Our next objectives are:

  1. To provide a better content and advertising experience for our users within Firefox.  This may include but is not limited to the creation of new units, better personalization, and a higher volume of partners for varied content.
  2. To push the industry forward.  We are sure that there are content and advertising technology companies who aspire to the same principles we do but do not have the tools to act with today.

That’s why in the next few days we will be contacting a number of content and advertising tech companies, both large and small, to discuss an RFI (“Request for Innovation” – a partnership proposal) for providing more automation and scale in our offering.  Scale allows us to deliver content to our users across the globe so we keep the experience for users fresh and current.  Automation allows us to do this on a scale that’s significant.  We have to engage with the industry’s state-of-the-art.  That means working programmatically (and this can be a very complex space to operate in).  We know that there are many people in ad tech who welcome our involvement – many have already joined the project.

One of Mozilla’s distinct qualities is its ability to bring in champions for our cause, from advocating for open standards to sharing the vision of an open mobile ecosystem, we are at our best when we focus on our own competence and bring others into our community.

This will not be business as usual.  We have a very clear sense of who we would and would not partner with, and any relationship we enter into has to support our values.  And while there may be some areas for discussion we will not partner with organizations who blatantly disrespect the user.

We are explicit about this in the RFI: we want to work with partners who align with the Mozilla mission and our user-centric ethos to change and evolve the industry through this engagement.  As talked about in previous posts on this blog, we’re looking for support amongst our three core principles:

  • Trust: Always architect with honesty in mind. Ask, “Do users understand why they are being presented with content? Do they understand what fragments of their data underscore advertising decisions?”
  • Transparency: Always be transparent. “Is it clear to users why advertising and content decisions are made? Is it clear how their data is being consumed and shared?  Are they aware and openly contributing to the dialog?”
  • Control: Always put the control with the user. “Do users have the ability to control their own data? Do they have the option to be completely private, completely public or somewhere in between?”

Our team is working hard to deliver against these promises to our users:

  • We believe digital advertising can respect users’ privacy choices.
  • We can build useful products and experiences that users will choose to engage with, and provide an experience that delivers value.
  • We believe publishers should respect browser signals around tracking and privacy. Our content projects will respect DNT signals.
  • We will collect and retain the minimal amount of data required to provide value to users, advertisers, and publishers.
  • We will put users in control of product feature opt-in/out.

We’ve launched the early version of our platform in the Firefox anniversary release (33.1), last November and we’ve been learning and tweaking it since.  2015 is a big year for us to scale and build better experiences and we’re looking forward to sharing these with you.

Feel free to reach out to us ( or join our interest list.  

Getting Tiles Data From Firefox

Ed Lee


Following the launch of Tiles in November, I wanted to provide more information on how data is transmitted into and from Firefox.  Last week, I described how we get Tiles data into Firefox differently from the usual cookie-identified requests.  In this post, I will describe how we report on users’ interactions with Tiles.

As a reminder, we have three kinds of Tiles: the History Tiles, which were implemented in Firefox in 2012, Enhanced Tiles, where we have a custom creative design for a Tile for a site that a user has an existing relationship with, and Directory Tiles, where we place a Tile in a new tab page for users with no browsing history in their profile.  Enhanced and Directory Tiles may both be sponsored, involving a commercial relationship, or they may be Mozilla projects or causes, such as our Webmaker initiative.


We need to be able to report data on user’s interactions with Tiles for two main reasons:

  • to determine if the experience is a good one
  • to report to our commercial partners on volumes of interactions by Firefox users

And we do these things in accordance with our data principles both to set the standards we would like the industry to follow and, crucially, to maintain the trust of our users.


Unless a user has opted out by switching to Classic or Blank, Firefox currently sends a list of the Tiles on a user’s new tab page to Mozilla’s servers, along with data about the user’s interaction with the Tiles, e.g., view, click, or pin.

Directory and Enhanced Tiles are identified by a Tile id, (e.g., “Firefox for Android” Tile has an id of 499 for American English-speaking users while “Firefox pour Android” has an id of 510 for French-speaking users).  History Tiles do not have an id, so we can only know that the user saw a history screenshot but not what page — except for early release channel Telemetry related experiments, we do not currently send URL information for Tiles, although of course we are able to infer it for the Directory and Enhanced Tiles that we have sent to Firefox.


Our implementation of Tiles uses the minimal actionable dataset, and we protect that data with with multiple layers of security.  This means:

  • cookie-less requests
  • encrypted transmission
  • aggressive cleaning of data

We also break up the data into smaller pieces that cannot be reconstructed to the original data.  When our server receives a list of seen Tiles from an IP address, we record that the specific individual Tiles were seen and not the whole list.

Sample POST graphic

Sample POST from opening a new tab


With the data aggregated across many users, we can now calculate how many total times a given Tile has been seen and visited.  By dividing the number of clicks by the number of views, we get a click-through-rate (CTR) that represents how valuable users find a particular tile, as well as a pin-rate and a block-rate.  This is sufficient for us to determine both if we think a Tile is useful for a user and also for us to report to a commercial partner.


Calculating the CTR for each tile and comparing them helps us decide if a Tile is useful to many users.  We can already see that the most popular tiles are “Customize Firefox” and “Firefox for Android” (Tile 499, remember) both in terms of clicks and pins.

For an advertiser, we create reports from our aggregated data, and they in turn can see the traffic for their URLs and are able to measure goal conversions on their back end.  Since the Firefox 10th anniversary announcement, which included Tiles and the Firefox Developer Edition, we ran a Directory Tile for the Webmaker initiative.  After 25 days, it had generated nearly 1 billion views, 183 thousand clicks, and 14 thousand pins.

Webmaker Tile

The Webmaker Tile (static and rollover states)

The Webmaker team, meanwhile, are able to see the traffic coming in (as the Tile directs traffic to a distinct URL), and they are able to give attribution to the Tile and track conversions from there:

Webmaker Dashboard’s Analytics dashboard: 182,488 sessions and 3,551 new Webmaker users!


We started with a relatively straightforward implementation to be able to measure how users are interacting with Tiles.  But we’ve already gotten some good ideas on how to make things even better for improved accuracy with less data.  For example, we currently cannot accurately measure how many unique users have seen a given Tile, and traditionally unique identifiers are used to measure that, but HyperLogLog has been suggested as a privacy-protecting technique to get us that data.  A separate idea is that we can use statistical random sampling that doesn’t require all Firefox users to send data while still getting the numbers we need. We’ll test sampling through Telemetry experiments to measure site popularity, and we’ll share more when we get those results.

We would love to hear your thoughts on how we treat users data to find the Tiles that users want.  And if you have ideas on how we can improve our data collection, please send them over as well!

Ed Lee on behalf of the Tiles team.

Getting Tiles Data Into Firefox

Ed Lee


A month ago, we announced that the new Tiles experience is available in the stable Firefox build. We experimented earlier this year and found that users do want more than empty boxes or screenshots in Firefox.  The Mozilla project is also working hard to set higher standards for the industry around transparency and control of the use of a user’s data.  With that in mind, we wanted to make it clear what data we do and do not pass from Mozilla servers to Firefox to enable the Tiles experience, and here, we’ll address how Tiles get into Firefox.  You can, of course, inspect the source code, but this might be easier.

Typically, if a web page adds external content, it does so by embedding an unencrypted remote request with cookied identifiers, so the server can respond as fast as possible with relevant content. The server also wants to remember as much as possible about the context of the request such as IP addresses and referrals, so this all is tracked through a persistent identifier that could be shared and triangulated with other data sources. Frequently, where a server wants to gather as much data as possible about users, invisible image beacons and iframes/scripts may be used to gather more information.  This is all done with little understanding by, or permission from, the user.

Tiles Request Headers Graphic

No special request headers or body data sent

What we are doing with Tiles is different

With the November 10th release, Firefox sends a single custom request once per day and then saves data locally to be used for as many new tabs opened by the user.  The Mozilla server sees the IP address of the request, and uses that to determine geotargeting at a country level (e.g., nothing more granular than “United States” or “Germany”).  The request URL contains the locale of the Firefox build to ensure the content Firefox shows is language and location appropriate.

Having received the request, we respond with the appropriate content and then delete the raw data with IP addresses within a week. Even with this minimal actionable data set, we are able to determine the volume of requests for specific country/locale pairs. This helps us decide which tiles to translate to provide a useful experience to new users in those regions.

The JSON response contains display information: Tiles graphics resources, URLs and titles, and is defined for a specific country/locale pair.

Code snippet

Sample en-US response with an array of tile data objects

Tiles is still evolving, and this is an initial release, but there are several things that we like about how we get Tiles data into Firefox.

Very importantly, this is an experience that is controlled by the user, involves the minimal actionable dataset.  “Tracking” has become a loaded term, and we do not consider Tiles to be tracking.  We do not need or try to identify an individual with these data requests, meaning that no cookies need to be set (and no other techniques to “fingerprint” are used).  However, we assume that anyone who has previously set their DNT preference to “do not track” wishes to opt out of the experience, and so no request is sent.  DNT is not how a user will opt out of the Tiles experience: a user who has Tiles can also set “do not track” independently of their Tiles settings.

The architecture reduces the latency requirements of our Tiles experience compared to traditional web pages: because Firefox can request and cache the data, it can pre-load assets, pre-compute personalization, and pre-populate the new tab page, so when users open a new tab, it’s fast and immediately usable.

And even though we send little data and save little data, we secure that data with transport encryption and prevent attacks with key pinning.

There are downsides to this approach: the data file could be outdated in both space and time. For example, a user could download tiles for their home country but then travels elsewhere, or we might accidentally show a Happy New Year tile after that date has passed. Also, because we package additional information in order to let Firefox make decisions, Firefox ends up with some title and URL data of Enhanced tiles that are not shown to users.  These are all potential improvements we’re looking forward to making.

Happy New Year Tile... might be a day late!

Happy New Year Tile… might be a day late!

I’m sure we can improve on our implementation.  We would also love to hear your thoughts on our approach to getting relevant Tiles data to power the default Directory and Enhanced Tiles experiences.  Next time, we will detail how we report data on interactions with Tiles.

Ed Lee on behalf of the Tiles team.

Announcing Firefox Tiles Going Live Today

Darren Herman


With the 10th anniversary update to Firefox, there was an important update to the new tab experience, promoting Tiles to the Firefox stable build, and making them available to hundreds of millions of users around the world.  Today we are excited to announce our first two sponsored Tiles partners: CVS Health and their media agency Mindshare North America, and

What are Tiles for?

For years, the new tab page in Firefox was unique in being intentionally blank – but by 2012, we learned that we could facilitate many users’ workflow through the new tab page.  We added thumbnails based on a calculation of “frecency” (frequency and recency of a user’s browsing history, essentially the same way that the Awesome bar calculates relevance). We learned that many users find these history thumbnails useful; but we were not entirely satisfied with the feature.  Thumbnails might be broken, and the experience could be much more dynamic.

We need to be able to use our voice with our users, for example to raise awareness around issues that affect the future of the Internet, and to promote those causes that we believe are important to that future.

We have been exploring the content discovery space.  There are many aspects of digital advertising that concern us: from the overall integrity of the advertising system on the Web, to the user having control over what happens to their data, and then to what happens to the data once the user has given their consent.  I have been writing for a while on this blog about the principles we follow and the ideas we have to improve digital advertising.

Lastly, we wanted to explore ways to contribute to the sustainability of the project in a way that we felt could align with Mozilla’s values.

Tiles are our first iteration on starting to solve these problems.  They create a more useful, attractive and dynamic new tab page.  Tiles also represent an important part of our efforts to create new communications, content and advertising experiences over which Firefox users maintain control.

Partnering with Mozilla

We’re very excited to have partnered with CVS Health (and Mindshare/GroupM) in the United States and globally as our first two Firefox sponsored Tiles partners.  We are live in 8 languages and 25 different countries*, and will continue to iterate with Mindshare/GroupM and, as well as with our community, as we continue to improve on the experience.

We have been delighted to work with Mindshare/GroupM and  When we collaborate, we need to understand the vision and objectives of the partner, and to understand if that partner is able to work within the framework of Mozilla’s principles.  Running sponsored content in Tiles is results-based, not surveillance-based. We do not allow tracking beacons or code in Tiles. We are not collecting, or providing them with, the data about you that most digital ad networks do.  There are certain categories that require screening or what’s commonly known as age-gating, or have other sensitivities, that we will stay away from, such as alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

The user’s experience

CVS Health Placed in Firefox Tiles

For users with no browsing history (typically a new installation), they will see Directory Tiles offering an updated, interactive design and suggesting useful sites.  A separate feature, Enhanced Tiles, will improve upon the existing new tab page experience for users who already have a history in their browser.

Tiles provides Mozilla (including our local communities) new ways to interact with and communicate with our users.  (If you’ve been using a pre-release Firefox build, you might have seen promotions for Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA, appearing in your new tab in the past few weeks.)

Tiles also offers Mozilla new partnership opportunities with advertisers and publishers all while respecting and protecting our users. These sponsorships serve several important goals simultaneously by balancing the benefits to users of improved experience, control and choice, with sustainability for Mozilla.

What users currently see in the New:Tab page on Firefox desktop will continue to evolve, just like any digital product would.  And it will evolve along the lines I discussed earlier here. Above all, we need to earn and maintain users’ trust.

You can learn more about Tiles here.

Looking ahead

User control and transparency are embedded in all of our design and architecture, and principles that we seek to deliver our users throughout their online life: trust is something that you earn every day.  The Tiles-related user data we collect is anonymized after we receive it – as it is for other parts of Firefox that we instrument to ensure a good experience.  And of course, a user can simply switch the new tab page Tiles feature off.   One thing I must note: users of ad blocking add-ons such as Ad Block Plus will see adverts by default and will need to switch Tiles off in Firefox if they wish to see no ads in their New Tab page.  You can read more about how we design for trust here.  (Note:  AdBlock Plus is not a Mozilla product and their content blocking mechanism is under their control.  We expect that they may add support for the Tiles in future releases)

With the testing we’ve done, we’re satisfied that users will find this an experience that they understand and trust – but we will always have that as a development objective.   You can expect us to iterate frequently, but we will never assume trust – we will always work to earn it.  And if we do have and maintain that trust, we can create potentially the best digital advertising medium on the planet.

We believe that we can do this, and offer a better way to deliver and to receive adverts that users find useful and relevant.  And we also believe that this is a great opportunity for advertisers who share our vision, and who wish to reach their audience in a way that respects them and their trust.  If that’s you, we want to hear from you.  Feel free to reach out to

And a big thank you to our initial launch partners, CVS Health,, and Citizenfour  who see our vision and are supporting Mozilla to have greater impact in the world.

* that list in full:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.

Interest Dashboard Beta Add-on Ready for Testing

Darren Herman


The Content Services team is working to reframe how users are understood on the Internet: how content is presented to them, how they can signal what they are interested in, how they can take control of the kinds of adverts they are exposed to.  As the Web evolves, these signals will be generated in two places by two actors: in the user’s client, at the user’s behest, or in the cloud, by a service or by a third party who seeks to know whatever it can about the user. We believe it is Mozilla’s place to ensure that the client empowers the user in this relationship and over time, think about how the cloud can play a role.

We’ve been working on an experimental feature that we think is super cool – which we’re calling the “Interest Dashboard” and today, we’ve releasing it as an experimental beta Firefox  add-on. The team here is excited about the Interest Dashboard as it explores the advancement of content and the browser.  The project has been led under the Product Management of Kevin Ghim and engineering leadership of Ed Lee in the Content Services team.  The goal is to see how people consume the Web and try and classify it, and we have something we want to get testing and feedback on with this beta add-on..

Interest Dashboard

How does it work?

You can download the experimental beta Interest Dashboard add-on here.

We believe that there are lots of ways that this add-on can benefit users – from new content discovery, to helping the user manage their own browsing behavior.

The ability to see how that time is spent, on which interests, and at what frequency and volume, will be fascinating for many users.  Users will see how their content consumption is categorized and provide feedback directly into the Interest Dashboard. Ultimately, we can then start showing the user a more personalized content experience, on the user’s terms.

We also know that we have a lot of challenges ahead of us.  We’d absolutely love your feedback after playing around with the add-on so please leave feedback in Bugzilla or in the comments section of this post.  This is a foundational piece for what we’re doing and we have to deliver value for ours users before we build on top of this.

There’s a lot of data science behind the classification system and we’re looking to make it better.  The feature presents you with a number of views of your data and actions, but we want to know what you would find interesting.

The Interest Dashboard shows the user their activity and lets them gain insight from it – “what gets measured, gets managed”.  In our case, the user of the Interest Dashboard will see all of the user’s browsing behavior and display it in a way the user can interact with.  And if you use multiple instances of Firefox, across multiple desktops, or Firefox for Android, and you have connected all instances to a Firefox Account, you will see your data from all your browsing.

The Firefox Interest Dashboard add-on is unique in bringing this functionality directly to the user in their client, under their control.  And unlike recommendation engines, the Firefox Interest Dashboard add-on will not be trying to stimulate you to remain engaged with a particular website, it will be a vehicle to allow the user to consciously express their own desires for what they want to browser to do.

So go download the Interest Dashboard add-on and see how much time each month you’re spending on watching kittens or funny videos.

A Call for Trust, Transparency and User Control in Advertising

Darren Herman


Advertising is the Web’s dominant business.  It relies on users for its success, and ironically fails to engage with them in a direct and honest way.  We are advocates of the many benefits that commercial involvement brings to the development of the Internet – it is at our core and part of the Mozilla Manifesto. Advertising is one of those commercial activities, it fuels and grows the Web. But the model has lost its focus by failing to put the user at the center.  We are calling initially on the advertising industry to adopt three core principles of trust, transparency and user control:

1)  Trust: Do users understand why they are being presented with content? Do they understand what pieces of their data fed into the display decision?

2)  Transparency: Is it clear to users why advertising decisions are made? Is it clear how their data is being consumed and shared?  Are they aware and openly contributing?

3)  Control: Do users have the ability to control their own data? Do they have the option to be completely private, completely public or somewhere in between?

We are re-thinking the model.  We want a world where Chief Marketing Officers, advertising agency executives, industry groups and the advertising technology companies see the real benefits of a user-centric model. These three principles give us the ability to build a strong, long term and more valuable platform for everyone.

What are we doing?

Our intention is to improve the experience as a player within the ecosystem. We’ll do this by experimenting and innovating.  All of our work will be designed with trust in mind.  Tiles is our first experiment and we are learning a lot.  Right now, we are showing users tiles from their “frecency” (recent and frequent sites), along with Mozilla information and suggestions and content labeled as sponsored. This experience is pretty basic but will evolve over time. Initial user interactions are positive. Users interacted with content labeled as sponsored that we placed in directory tiles 10x more than Mozilla-based content.

Our next step will be to give users more transparency and control. Our UP platform will eventually help to power tiles and will help determine which content is displayed to the user.  The platform itself is innovative as it currently allows the interests data to sit client side, completely in the user’s control. The data can still be accessed there without us creating a dossier on the user, outside of the Firefox client.

We will then put the user first by building an interests dashboard (something that we are already working on) that offers users a way to easily change their interests or participation in enhanced content at any time. The dashboard provides a constant feedback loop with users and will work with all our enhanced content projects.

What can we promise?

We will continue to demonstrate that it’s possible to balance commercial interests with public benefit, and to build successful products that respect user privacy and deliver experiences based upon trust, transparency and control.

  • We want to show the world you can do display advertising in a way that respects users’ privacy.
  • We believe that publishers should respect browser signals around tracking and privacy. If they don’t, we’ll take an active role in doing so and all our enhanced content projects will respect DNT.
  • We will respect the Minimal Actionable Dataset, a thought stream pioneered by one of our fellow Mozillians to only collect what’s needed – nothing more – and be transparent about it.
  • We will put users in control to customize, change or turn product features on/off at any time.

We can’t change the Web from the sidelines, and we can’t change advertising on the Web without being a part of that ecosystem. We are excited about this mission and we’re working hard to achieve our goals. Stay tuned for updates over the coming weeks.

If this resonates with and you have ideas or want to help, we’d love to hear from you by leaving comments below or by filling out this form.

More Details on Directory Tiles

Darren Herman


We’ve received lots of feedback about the Directory Tiles idea I discussed on Tuesday. Some of it was supportive, some of it was curious, some of it was pretty harsh. I’m grateful for all of it, though. It shows the passion and commitment people have for Firefox, and for Mozilla’s mission. I’ve been a fan of Mozilla for a long time, but I’m still new here, and it’s been an education.

I have prepared a FAQ based on the most common questions we have received:

What are Tiles?

Every time a user opens up a new tab in Firefox, the browser displays nine boxes, or Tiles. Frequent Firefox users see screenshots of the websites they visit most often in their Tiles.

What appears in Tiles is currently based on a “frecency” algorithm: your recency of visiting a site and your frequency of visiting a site.  Sites that have been visited with the most recency and frequency appear in a user’s Tile.

What are Directory Tiles?

Directory Tiles are a new project from Mozilla, to deliver a better experience for new Firefox users.  Because a new Firefox user has no browser history, they don’t see content in tiles when they open a new tab.  Our idea with Directory Tiles is to pre-populate the new tab page for those users with sites we think they’ll find useful or interesting.

Will users know which tiles are sponsored?

Yes, the sponsored Tiles will be clearly labeled.

What is the timeline for Tiles?

There’s a lot of questions still to answer about how Directory Tiles will feel in practice, and how we choose the right set. Directory Tiles will go live once we have the details right.

How will Firefox determine which Tiles to show users?

At the outset, Firefox will be rotating content in Directory Tiles for each user to test the results.

How long will a user see Directory Tiles after they start using Firefox?

Our frecency algorithm takes about 30 days of normal browsing behavior to update Tiles.

At that point the user will start seeing content that reflects the sites they’ve recently and frequently visited.

Will Directory Tiles Profile Users to Target Content?

We will use GeoIP to ensure Tiles content is relevant to the user’s location, just as we recognize where a visitor to our homepage came from so we can localize the language, but no other user information is collected or considered.

What information will Mozilla provide sponsored content partners from the Directory Tiles?

Mozilla is putting together just the basic metrics that marketers or content publishers might need to understand the value they are receiving.  As of now, our expectation is that we’ll be delivering the number of impressions (how many times a tile was shown) and interactions (how many interactions with a tile, i.e. clicks).

Would a publisher be able to recommend specific articles in a Tile?

We’ll consider and test different approaches to directory tiles content, but whatever systems are implemented will need to be aligned with Mozilla’s mission, values and privacy policy.

Publisher Transformation with Users at the Center

Darren Herman


*Feb. 13 update: I posted more details about Directory Tiles here.*

We believe that if you put the user front and center, you can make every experience for them richer and more meaningful. The Content Services team has embraced this, and today I wanted to share some of our thinking and explain our first steps for putting it into practice.

When the user is at the center everyone benefits, including content creators whether they are  publishers or marketers. Digital has already disrupted all kinds of industries, thanks in large part to its ability to deliver more choice and personalization for users.  The challenge for digital media is that it is a rapidly-changing environment, and what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow.

While Mozilla hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with all viewpoints in the digital content community, particularly the IAB, we think they’d agree that users’ interests should come first, and we want to help their members deliver compelling content to strengthen the Web ecosystem. So, when IAB Chairman Randall Rothenberg invited Mozilla to participate and share our views at their Annual Leadership Meeting this week, we jumped at the chance. One of the main themes being explored at the meeting is Publisher Transformation, so I contributed Mozilla’s perspective and latest activities in a speech to attendees this morning.

Directory Tiles program

Mozilla is kicking off an exploration to transform the user’s content experience through two initial programs, one of which you may have already read about called UP, which I’ll provide an update on in a future post.

The newest program is one we’re calling Directory Tiles, which is designed to improve the first-time-with-Firefox experience. Currently, if a new Firefox user opens a new tab, this is what they see:


Their tiles – those nine rectangles that populate over time with the most frequent and recent websites they visit – are empty.  The new tab page isn’t delivering any value for them.

Directory Tiles will instead suggest pre-packaged content for first-time users.   Some of these tile placements will be from the Mozilla ecosystem, some will be popular websites in a given geographic location, and some will be sponsored content from hand-picked partners to help support Mozilla’s pursuit of our mission.  The sponsored tiles will be clearly labeled as such, while still leading to content we think users will enjoy.

We are excited about Directory Tiles because it has inherent value to our users, it aligns with our vision of a better Internet through trust and transparency, and it helps Mozilla become more diversified and sustainable as a project. While we have not worked out the entire product roadmap, we are beginning to talk to content partners about the opportunity, and plan to start showing Directory Tiles to new Firefox users as soon as we have the user experience right.

We’ll be updating this blog with more information about Directory Tiles and other initiatives, so keep us bookmarked.