That was fast. Mozilla is pulling the ads from Firefox’s new tab page, saying that advertising “isn’t the right business for us at this time.” Ads will show up for a couple months, as previous sales are honored, and then the ads will just stop.
The new tab page in Firefox has long showed users the sites they visit most frequently — their Top Sites. In May of this year users started seeing “Suggested” sites in the prominent top-left position. These were paid advertisements benefiting the Mozilla Corporation (which is a subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation). Mozilla made the feature easy to turn off, but that didn’t mean users liked the famously free and open source browser exploiting a previously-clean part of the interface.
After months of complaints, Mozilla put out a buzzword-laden blog post Friday announcing the end of the program, the gist of which is that paid tiles in the New Tab page are no more.
“Advertising in Firefox could be a great business, but it isn’t the right business for us at this time because we want to focus on core experiences for our users,” wrote Darren Herman, vice president of content services, in a blog post about the change.
Of course, there’s a broader context to the ads. For over a decade Firefox had one main revenue source: an agreement with Google. Firefox made Google the default search engine, and Google shared revenue with them in return. This agreement ended in 2014, at which point Mozilla penned agreements with different search engines in different parts of the world. In the US, this means Yahoo.
But it seems like these new arrangements aren’t producing the kind of income the one with Google did — possibly because users are switching their default browsers back to Google soon after installing Firefox, and possibly because Firefox is losing users to Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s new Edge browsers.
So Mozilla has been trying out other ways to raise the funds needed to pay developers. For example: the firm built the read-it-later/bookmarking service Pocket into the desktop version of the browser as part of a revenue-sharing agreement.
And if the blog post is anything to go by, it seems like advertising to users isn’t being completely ruled out in the long term.
“Mozilla will continue to explore ways to bring a better balance to the advertising ecosystem for everyone’s benefit, and to build successful products that respect user privacy and deliver experiences based upon transparency, choice, and control,” the post concludes. We’ll find out what that means in the months to come.