Firefox Will Soon Get Sponsored Suggested Tiles Based On Your Browsing History

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It’s pretty odd hearing a not-for-profit organization like Mozilla talk about how it wants to help advertisers strengthen the conversation between brands and its users — especially given that I’ve never met anybody who wanted to have a conversation with a brand. But that’s the world we live in.

Mozilla today launched its “Suggested Tiles” program, which promises advertisers prime real estate in Firefox’s new tab page. These ads will come to Firefox Beta first — mostly in the form of house ads — and then roll out to the main Firefox release channel soon after.

This move doesn’t come as a major surprise. Mozilla has featured sponsored ‘Directory Tiles‘ in Firefox for a few months now, after all, and Suggested Tiles are the logical next step. Unlike Directory Tiles, which are the default tiles that appear for new users without a browsing history, Sponsored Tiles are based on your browsing history. To do this, the advertising service looks at your browsing history to figure out your interests by comparing it to a set of URLs that fit into a given category.

You can see some of the combinations that Mozilla uses to infer interests in the code here. (We are somewhat saddened by the fact that going to TechCrunch.com won’t help you to signal your interest in technology but going to Engadget.com and FunkySpaceMonkey.com does.)

This means Mozilla is walking a fine line here given that it has long championed protecting its users’ privacy as one of its main goals. The organization, however, argues that it has put clear limits on what data advertisers can collect from users and how it targets these ads.

“With Suggested Tiles, we want to show the world that it is possible to do relevant advertising and content recommendations while still respecting users’ privacy and giving them control over their data,” Mozilla’s VP of Content Services Darren Herman writes today.

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Some of the privacy rules are about the number and kinds of URLs that Mozilla will use to infer a user’s interest (there have to be at least five URLs, for example, and suggested tiles can’t be triggered by a combination of two URLs). While advertisers can suggest which URLs to include, Mozilla will have the final word. Mozilla also says that it does not build user profiles and doesn’t use cookies or any other tracking tools. Once you click on a link, though, the advertiser obviously has these tools at its disposal. Mozilla, however, will only share aggregate reports and no personal data from its users.

History_UIMozilla argues that this new kind of ad will allow advertisers to get in front of potential customers before they even start browsing.

Just like Mozilla reluctantly deciding that it had to support DRM in the browser if it wanted to keep users on its platform, it probably also made the rather reluctant decision that if it wanted to continue to independently operate, it would have to make money from its browser besides its search partnership with Yahoo.

It feels like Firefox has the right privacy protections in place to make this one of the more user-friendly advertising programs around. If you want to opt out, though, you can do so with just a few clicks.