Focus by Firefox – Content Blocking for the Open Web
Today we are launching Focus by Firefox, a free content blocker for Safari users on iOS 9. The app allows users to control their data flow by blocking categories of trackers such as those used for ads, analytics and social media and allows increased performance on mobile devices by blocking Web fonts.
We want to build an Internet that respects users, puts them in control, and creates and maintains trust. Too many users have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives. This loss of trust has impacted the ecosystem – sometimes negatively. Content blockers offer a way to rebuild that trust by empowering users. At the same time, it is important that these tools are used to create a healthy, open ecosystem that supports commercial activity, instead of being used to lock down the Web or to discriminate against certain industries or content. That’s why we articulated our three content blocking principles.
We’ve now put these principles into action. We made Focus by Firefox because we believe content blockers need to be transparent with publishers and other content providers about how lists are created and maintained, rather than placing certain content in a permanent penalty box. We want this product to encourage a discussion about users and content providers, instead of monetizing users’ mistrust and pulling value out of the Web ecosystem. Focus by Firefox is free to users and we don’t monetize it in other ways.
For many content blockers, the standards used to determine what gets blocked aren’t clear. They aren’t transparent about their choices. They don’t provide ways for blocked content providers to improve and become unblocked. And some content blockers remove companies from a list in exchange for payment.
With Focus by Firefox, we are taking a different approach. To do this, we’ve based a portion of our product on a list provided by our partner Disconnect under the General Public License. We think Disconnect’s public list provides a good starting point that demonstrates the value of open data. It bases its list on a public definition of tracking and publicly identifies any changes it makes to that list, so users and content providers can see and understand the standards it is applying. The fact that those standards are public means that content providers–in this case those that are tracking users–have an opportunity to improve their practices. If they do so, Disconnect has a process in place for content providers to become unblocked, creating an important feedback loop between users and content providers.
Content blocking is new terrain for us and we don’t have all the answers yet. As an industry, we need to figure out how to make these feedback mechanisms much more robust, so that content providers have a stronger incentive to put users in command of their online experience. And we need to understand better what users want. Some care about privacy. Others on mobile care about performance. So while Focus by Firefox is launching geared towards giving more choice over tracking, we plan to provide control over performance and data usage.
As we innovate on this product, we’ll be transparent about our decisions and work to create and improve those feedback loops between users and content providers. This is how we believe blocking tools can strengthen the commercial activity that underlies the Internet while giving users control and earning back their trust.