Mozilla’s Mr. Robot promo backfires after it installs a Firefox extension without permission

If you’re a Firefox user, you may have noticed a weird new extension that suddenly showed up in your browser this week.

The extension is called “Looking Glass 1.0.3” and this is its description: MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT FROM YOURS. Now that sounds ominous. It’s really not, though. It’s a promotional campaign between Firefox and the TV series Mr. Robot that brings an alternate reality game to your browser. This must have sounded like a great idea when somebody pitched it to Mozilla, but the backlash has been fierce.

There are some obvious synergies between the Mr. Robot and Mozilla brands, after all (or so I assume, based on what I’ve heard; I’ve only seen one episode). And the extension doesn’t really do anything until you’ve opted into the game.

But still, if Mozilla is positioning itself as the privacy-conscious alternative to Google, Microsoft and others, then installing an extension without asking users first doesn’t feel right at all. It doesn’t help that the extension seems to come from Mozilla’s Shield project, which is the company’s platform for testing new features in Firefox with a subset of users who opt-in to giving these types of things a try.

And then there’s the fact that you simply can’t assume that the majority of Firefox users even cares about Mr. Robot (or knows what it is). It may have an outsized following inside of developer circles, but we’re talking about a show that had just less than 700,000 viewers for its last season opener.

It all just feels a bit tone-deaf, so we reached out to Mozilla to get a better grip on what the organization was thinking. So far, we have not received a response, but we’ll update this post once we hear more.

Here is Mozilla’s response, courtesy of Chief Marketing Officer Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: “Firefox worked with the Mr. Robot team to create a custom experience that would surprise and delight fans of the show and our users. It’s especially important to call out that this collaboration does not compromise our principles or values regarding privacy. The experience does not collect or share any data.

The experience was kept under wraps to be introduced at the conclusion of the season of Mr. Robot.  We gave Mr. Robot fans a unique mystery to solve to deepen their connection and engagement with the show and is only available in Firefox.”

Update: Kaykas-Wolff provided us with an additional statement and Mozilla has now moved the add-on into its store:

“Our goal with the custom experience we created with Mr. Robot was to engage our users in a fun and unique way. Real engagement also means listening to feedback. And so while the web extension/add-on that was sent out to Firefox users never collected any data, and had to be explicitly enabled by users playing the game before it would affect any web content, we heard from some of our users that the experience we created caused confusion.

As a result we will be moving the Looking Glass Add-on to our Add-On store within the next 24 hours so Mr. Robot fans can continue to solve the puzzle and the source can be viewed in a public repository.”