Did you know that Firefox filters certain sites so that they don’t appear in the Top Sites and Highlights listing on the New Tab Page?
Firefox’s Top Sites listing on the New Tab Page displays popular sites visited by the user and sites and search shortcuts that Mozilla added to the listing by default.
Mozilla implemented a filter for the top sites listing in 2014 to prevent certain sites from appearing on the New Tab Page.
The reason for the filter? conflicts with commercial partners. Kevin Ghim opened the issue on Bugzilla in 2014 using the following description:
Problem: commercial partners do not want their content to be negatively associated with adult content. In the context of Suggested Tiles, this means no sponsored or affiliate tiles should appear within same browser viewport. As an example, MGM would not want a 007 DVD release to be appearing within the same page (in particular, directly next to) where PirateBay tile appears.
In other words, commercial partners who are interested in placing sponsored tiles on the New Tab Page might not wand their content displayed next to sites opened by the user that may affect the sponsored content negatively.
Mozilla launched sponsored tiles, a new revenue option embedded in Firefox, in 2014. Back then, I suggested that sponsored tiles might not be worth it as revenue would be comparatively low and might affect user perception of Firefox negatively. Mozilla dropped sponsored tiles one year later in Firefox but did not remove the content filter.
Certain sites won’t be listed on Firefox’s New Tab Page even if you visit them regularly or if they are the most visited sites in the browser.
A quick check in Firefox Stable on Windows confirmed this. Visits of popular adult sites — for research — did not result in these sites being added to the Top Sites or Highlights listing on the New Tab Page.
Disabling the filter in Firefox would make these visited sites appear eventually (I had to dismiss one item to get these to display, probably because of caching).
Catalin Cimpanu, who discovered the filter, notes that the filter prevents [certain] adult sites from appearing in the Top sites and Highlights section of Firefox’s New Tab Page.
He notes that Firefox users may disable the filter; this is done in the following way:
- Load about:config?filter=browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.filterAdult in the Firefox address bar.
- Confirm that you will be careful if the warning prompt is displayed.
- Set the preference browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.filterAdult to false by double-clicking on it.
A value of false disables the adult filter, a value of true is the default filter and means that it is enabled.
A list of domain hashes that Firefox uses for the filter is listed here. The list contains a total of 2919 encoded URLs.
The filter was introduced at a time when Mozilla tried various monetization options to diversify revenue. Mozilla’s decision was based on commercial interests only and not Firefox user interest. The organization could have used a different implementation: maintain a list of sites that advertisers object to and if found on the New Tab Page in Firefox, omit the advertisement.
Limiting Firefox’s Top Sites and Highlights functionality in favor of commercial interests is not something that one would expect from an organization that states on its start page “Your life is your business. Not ours”.
Mozilla should consider removing the filter from the New Tab Page.
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