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.