Mozilla started to integrate the read-it-later service Pocket in 2015 in the Firefox web browser. First as an option for users to save articles they encounter on the web for reading it at a later time and some sort of bookmarking alternative, and then later on to power recommendations from around the Web on Firefox’s New Tab page in the US, Canada and Germany.
Part of Firefox’s userbase criticized Mozilla for integrating Pocket natively in the browser (as opposed to offering an add-on), others liked the integration and found it useful.
Mozilla acquired the read-it-later service Pocket last year to gain full control over the service and use its vast archive of saved pages and articles as a basis for recommendations in the Firefox browser.
The organization promised to improve transparency, and started to publish Pocket code.
Firefox, Pocket and sponsored stories
Mozilla revealed future features of Firefox’s Pocket integration yesterday on the Future Releases blog. Mozilla’s engineers plan to show personalized recommendations and sponsored stories on Firefox’s New Tab page.
Both features will land in Firefox Beta soon and only shown to a “small portion of U.S. users” to test the functionality and receive feedback on the implementation.
What’s next? We recently started testing personalized recommendations, and we will soon experiment with showing an occasional sponsored story within the Pocket Recommendations section in New Tab Page in Firefox Beta. This will be shown to a small portion of U.S. users as we start to test.
Side note: Pocket launched sponsored content back in 2016.
The new features are experiments and it is not a given that they will find their way into the Firefox release channel.
Firefox users can turn off sponsored content in the following way:
- Click on the cogwheel icon on Firefox’s New Tab page.
- Uncheck “show sponsored stories” or “recommended by Pocket”.
The current advertising model on the Web is broken according to Mozilla.
We believe the current model of web advertising is broken because it doesn’t respect user privacy, isn’t transparent, lacks control, all the while trending towards click-bait and low-quality content.
Mozilla’s right in my opinion when it states that, and the brokeness of the advertising system is what drives users towards installing content blockers.
The organization uses Pocket’s integration in Firefox to test a “responsible sponsored content model” that “supports high-quality content, respects user privacy, and that puts control back into the hands of users—and do so in a way that’s financially sustainable for the future health of the web”.
Mozilla’s model differs from traditional advertising models in several ways:
- Privacy — personalization without invading user privacy, collecting huge chunks of data or sharing it with third-parties.
- Quality — valuable content not driven by clicks (clickbait).
- Control — options to hide stories or turn the system off completely.
- Transparency — sponsored stories are marked as such.
- Openness — source code available.
I’m not the target audience for sponsored stories or Pocket’s integration in general. Heck, I don’t interact with the New Tab page at all, and use it only to load new websites by interacting with Firefox’s address bar.
This is not a Firefox-specific thing either, as I don’t use the New Tab page in any browser.
The usefulness of sponsored content depends largely on the selection algorithm. While some users may object to sponsored suggestions, many probably won’t mind as long as the recommended content is a good match. Those who do mind can turn off sponsored stories easily or turn off Pocket completely.
Now You: Has your stance on Pocket changed now that it is owned by Mozilla?
- Mozilla has a revenue share agreement with Pocket
- Please Mozilla, give me control over System Add-ons
- Pro and Con of Mozilla’s Pocket integration in Firefox
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