Firefox Health Report

At Mozilla we believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet and we are committed to building Web products and services that provide outstanding functionality and capability to the user. This post describes a new feature that we plan to release into Firefox called Firefox Health Report which will share Firefox product information with Mozilla and its users to provide a better browsing experience.

Better “Motoring” on the Open Web with Firefox Health Report

The modern car provides a good analogy for what we are planning to achieve with the Firefox Health Report. Earlier in its 100 year history the car was seen as novel and exciting, opening new opportunities for individuals and society. However the car was also seen as often capricious and sometimes dangerous – making users endure unwelcome anxieties.  Today, cars have become a differentiated product maintaining all the positive promises of an earlier age.  But much of the angst of earlier times is diminished by improved reliability, increased safety measures, and better maintenance approaches.  A key to this improved state is better data efficiently used by the car manufacturer to deliver an excellent driving experience.

All cars today come with the capability of logging or recording critical information on the car’s on-board computer.  This information relates to the performance of critical sub-systems, the condition of key mechanical characteristics, and the occurrence of anomalous or dangerous events.  This information is used by on-board control systems to advise the driver of potential problems or areas for improvement (e.g., check engine light) and used by service personnel to diagnose problems and determine repair actions (i.e., clearing service codes).  In more sophisticated instances the information can be used to improve or programmatically optimize the vehicle by providing field upgrades for the on-board control software.

Moreover, the information collected from a vast number of cars is invaluable to each manufacturer in optimizing their products.  The information supports better maintenance and warranty programs and facilitates product recalls, if necessary.  The information gives comprehensive insights into the empirical driving conditions encountered by their drivers.  All the aggregated evidence from the field operation of cars is consumed in the design process and impacts positively the quality and functionality of future products.

Most importantly, these on-board data systems serve the in-car needs of drivers and riders.  Better summary instrumentation delivers maximum relevant data for a fixed budget of driver attention – car cockpits exhibit marvelous economies of design.  Under the hood, automatic closed loop systems on the power-train perform constrained optimization – for safety, fuel efficiency, performance, or other composite driving styles that the driver can select – economy, sport, off-road, etc…

Why Your Browser is Like Your Car

Today, Mozilla’s ability to deliver excellence to our Firefox users is quite limited.

Up to now Mozilla has counted only Firefox installations and has some very basic information to allow limited cross-tabulations of these installations, without having any ability to assess the longitudinal trends on these population characteristics. Metaphorically speaking, the standard of our products statistics is frozen in the 1940s or 1950s.

Modern evidence-based approaches to delivering a viable, let alone optimized, Firefox product demand more Firefox installation data, but acquired in a very carefully considered manner and with full disclosure of our motivations. We are transparent about our argument as to the existential necessity for Firefox functionality and our explicit social contract with the community around data and its ownership and stewardship.

The Firefox Health Report

Our philosophy and mission set a very high standard of respecting user data and privacy (see Mitchell’s recent post). We are also commanded to make our products not just good but excellent, providing the best user experience in a secure manner. This new product feature will allow us to deliver an improved Firefox product that better serves users, both individually and collectively.  Our proposal is driven by the best of scientific and analytical intent and takes the greatest of pains to manage downward the amount of data collected.  Data needs are set to the minimum –necessary level.  So let me explain what FHR will do.

FHR will collect data on the following aspects of the browser instance:

  • Configuration data – for example, device hardware, operating system, Firefox version
  • Customizations data – for example, add-ons, count and type
  • Performance data – for example, timing of browser events, rendering, session restores
  • Wear and Tear data – for example, length of session, how old a profile is, count of crashes

The car analogy drives home the point that we are interested in the browser instance (car) rather than the user (driver).  In fact the information recorded is a pooled blend of the characteristics of all browser instances of a given profile.  Needless to say, we – as in the auto case – have no interest in where the browser has been – search terms, keyword and location are not collected.

The Firefox Health Report provides the following benefits:

  • User insights exhibited on-board the browser instance through visualizations and comparative graphics.
  • Product insights conveyed to Mozilla – the manufacturer or designer of the car– to help in improving existing browser instances and especially to more fully inform future design and development of Firefox.
  • Provide Mozilla with the ability to streamline and reduce duplicate information it collects across other products such as Telemetry.

The Firefox Health Report will land in the Nightly build soon. For more information about it please take a look at this FAQ, or ask questions about it here by posting a comment. We’ll provide further updates when FHR becomes available in Nightly.

5 responses

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  3. Robert Kaiser wrote on :

    What I don’t like with your car analogy is that car manufacturers are not exposing any of that data to the driver or even letting the driver (who most of the the time even is the *owner* of the car and therefore the data!) know what data is being handed over to service people or back to manufacturers. If we did this, we would go against all Mozilla stands for and so we are way more open about that and even add a feature so the user can check that data and what it means directly from his/her browser. We should emphasize on those points, but I feel that your analogy with the secretive and closed-up car industry doesn’t help there.

  4. deinspanjer wrote on :

    I agree that the car industry isn’t open with the data and they don’t go out of their way to make it useful to the car owners, but there are some ways the analogy holds up fairly well from a technical perspective. The communication mechanism on modern cars that allows the information to be retrieved is a standard, and there are many useful devices on the third-party market that enable car owners to tap into that data for their own purposes, whether it is gathering metrics about the performance of their vehicle, or even taking actions to tweak the performance.

    I believe all analogies break down at some point, but as long as we are clear about how we are acting different in regards to the contents and control of the data, I think it is a useful analogy to use as a starting point.

  5. EdmundGerber wrote on :

    If you truly believe in openness, then make it Opt-In, instead of having your users hunt around for the means to protect their privacy.