If you take a look at the installed extensions of your version of Firefox right now, you may notice a new extension called Looking Glass listed among them.
You can display all user installed extensions on about:addons. Chance is very high that you did not install Looking Glass, and the description “MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS.” does not really reveal anything about the extension.
Created by the PUG Experience Group, it at least lists names of the actual developers next to the listing.
First thought is probably that it is some kind of malware that was installed automatically. Good news is, it is not.
Looking Glass is an official Mozilla extension. The project’s GitHub page reveals that “Looking Glass is a collaboration between Mozilla and the makers of Mr. Robot to provide a shared world experience”.
The Support article on the Firefox website describes Looking Glass as an Alternate Reality Game to “further your immersion into the Mr Robto universe” without going into details. It appears that users need to opt in to the game, but it is not explained where you need to go and what you need to do to start it.
A quick look in the extension’s manifest file reveals that it runs on three sites only: https://www.red-wheelbarrow.com/forkids/*, https://www.whatismybrowser.com/detect/* and https://red-wheelbarrow-stage.apps.nbcuni.com/forkids/activitysheet/.
Mozilla provides an explanation for the cross-promotion:
The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security. One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla’s mission is that individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy.
Here is what is wrong with Looking Glass
Looking Glass gets installed automatically as part of Firefox’s studies feature. Unlike other studies, it is listed in about:addons and uses a non-descriptive name and description.
No one knows what the extension does and where it came from based on that. The first though then is clearly that this is some sort of malware that was injected somehow in the browser without any user interaction.
Research reveals that this is an official Mozilla extension, so that is good at least to know that this is not malware.
But Looking Glass is clearly an advertisement that Mozilla pushed in the browser. Mozilla calls it cross-promotion, but the meaning is the same.
The main issue that I have with this is how amateurish Mozilla handles these things sometimes. Pushing an extension like this to Firefox installations to promote a TV show that most Firefox users don’t watch crosses a line in my opinion. The fact that only people who watch the show may understand the description, and that Mozilla failed to provide information on what the extension does or where it came from, adds to that.
Mozilla pulling stunts like this erodes user trust in the brand. It is not the first time that Mozilla did something that it better should not have done. Earlier this year, the organization ran a Cliqz experiment in Firefox on a subset of users from Germany that had data collecting enabled by default.
Remove Looking Glass
To remove Looking Glass, go to about:addons and click on remove next to Looking Glass. It appears that Mozilla is removing the extension automatically as we speak; at least that is what happened on my system a minute ago.
You can prevent Mozilla from installing studies in Firefox by opening about:preferences#privacy, and removing the checkmark from “allow Firefox to install and run studies”.
Now You: What’s your take on this?