Trust should be the currency

Denelle Dixon-Thayer


At Mozilla, we champion a Web  that empowers people to reach their full potential and be in control of their online lives. In my role at Mozilla this means advocating for products, policies and practices that respect our users and create trusted online environments and experiences.  We believe trust is the most important currency on the Web – and when that trust is violated, the system fails.

I have been spending a lot of time with our Content Services team as they work on their new initiatives.  Their first challenge is tackling the online advertising ecosystem.  This is hard work but extremely important.  Our core values of trust, transparency and control are just as applicable to the advertising industry as to any other, but they aren’t widely adopted there.

Today, online advertising is rife with mistrust.  It is opaque for most users because the value exchange is not transparent.  While it should be trust, the prevailing Web currency is user data – much of the content is free because publishers and websites generate revenue through advertising.  At its core, this model is not new or unique, it is common in the media industry (e.g., broadcast television commercials and newspapers that are ad supported).  To improve monetization, online ads are now targeted based on a user’s browsing habits and intentions.  This isn’t a bad thing when done openly or done with consent.  The problem is that this “personalization” is not always transparent, leaving users in the dark about what they have traded for their content.  This breaks the system.

Our users and our community have told us – through surveys, comments and emails – that transparency and control matter most to them when it comes to online advertising.  They want to know what is happening with their data; they want to control what data is shared, understand how their data is used and what they get for that exchange.  They are willing to engage in the value exchange and allow their data to be used if they understand what happens next.  Our users want trust (and not their data) to be the prevailing currency.  We believe that without this shift in focus, users will limit access to their data and will block ads.

We want our users to not only trust us but to be able to trust the Web. We want to empower their choices and help them control their online experience. This is why we pioneered the Do Not Track (DNT) initiative.  DNT relies on advertisers, publishers and websites to respect a user’s preference. Unfortunately, many participants in the online advertising ecosystem do not modify their behavior in response to the DNT signal.  In this instance, user choice is not being respected.  So, we must do more for the user and continue to innovate.

We are doing this by working within the ecosystem to create change.  We are testing our new tiles feature in Firefox and working to ensure that it provides personalization with respect and transparency built in. We are building DNT and other user controls into the tiles experiments and working to establish these foundational elements with our partners.  We are providing users with more information about their Web presence through Lightbeam, and will be testing new privacy initiatives that give users more control over the flow of their data.  We want to bring relevant and personalized content to our users while empowering control that inspires trust.

We need to see a renewed focus of trust, transparency and control on the Web as a whole.  We can all do better.  We want to see more products and services (and not just in online advertising) developed with those ideals in mind.  For our part, we will continue to do more to innovate and create change so that we deserve your trust.


4 responses

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  1. Sedate Me wrote on :

    I distrust the advertising industry even MORE than I distrust politicians. Lies & manipulations are their very stock & trade. As a result, I generally distrust any product that relies on advertising to exist. I can guarantee you, I will NEVER click on any “sponsored” tile, at least not on purpose. I am going to opt for the Blank Screen option, the only “choice” you’ve given us here. (What, not even a choice to open the tab on our default home pages?)

    To a certain extent, my distrust includes media that heavily relies on advertising. If they think so little of their customers that they treat them as data resources to be mined & sold, then what else is up for sale? The content itself? Can you buy a positive news story, or bury a negative one? History clearly shows this is often the case. Why? Because the media companies value the monetizing of their customers eyeballs/data more than they value their customers. Consciously or otherwise, the negative influence of advertising on traditional media was part of the reason people first started migrating to the Internet.

    Up until now, Mozilla has been FAR better than the competition. But once you start going down that slippery slope, even just a little bit, it’s hard to win back the trust that was the very foundation of your success. How many more of these “compromises” will it take until folks like me can’t trust any of Mozilla’s services? Probably not many. People chose Mozilla for a reason.

    Instead of trying to figure out how to monetize your customers in ways that leave them with a level of privacy and choice, perhaps Mozilla should aim higher, not lower. Figure out ways to invent an Internet experience without even the slightest of “compromise”. I know I’m in the minority, but I’d rather chose an option to mail Mozilla a cheque for a few bucks a year for a completely ad-free, ultra-private, Internet experience with a host of great services, than a free service that serves up some ads, but still respects my privacy & choice more than industry standards. In this field, “industry standards” is literally the lowest imaginable bar to clear, so that leaves the field wide open for negative changes.

    (PS: The people that respect their privacy the most are usually adverse to sharing their opinions in ways that require registration, using e-mail addresses, or anything that might track/identify them…and vice-versa. That’s why feedback always tends to lean towards those who are less concerned with privacy. Something to remember when you’re trying to figure out what users think.)


    1. Antifumo wrote on :

      You really got all of what I feel but couldn’t find the exact words for, thank you for your detailed comment!


  2. Galin wrote on :

    I want Mozilla to pay me 50% of their Advertising Income, because he sold my information to the advertisers and earn money for that.


  3. Antifumo wrote on :

    This kind of features is making Firefox look like everyone else on the “market”. This is something users have to opt-in to, not to opt-out from! Very bad practice. I’m really disappointed that Firefox is going on this way, and I think many users are. Not sure you’ll gain users’ trust this way. Nor gain new users.


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