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Mozilla wants to combat Notification Spam in Firefox

Most modern web browsers support push notifications; websites may request to send notifications to the browser, e.g. when a new blog post is published or updates are available. Users need to accept these notifications before sites may use the system.

While that sounds good on paper, it quickly led to sites throwing notification permission requests at users as soon as they opened them; this happened on sites visited regularly but also on first visit.

Mozilla introduced a feature in Firefox 59 to block all notifications requests in Firefox and to control them on a per-site basis, and Google offered something similar in Chrome since 2016.

The organization announced yesterday that it plans to run tests to better understand notifications and reduce notification permission prompt spam in Firefox. Mozilla promised to do something about in-page popups in Firefox as well in 2018.

firefox 59 block notifications

Data provided by Mozilla shows that the vast majority of notification prompts get declined and dismissed. In the period between December 25, 2018 and January 24, 2019, Firefox Beta users were shown 18 million notification prompts. Only 3% of these were accepted by users while 19% caused users to leave the site immediately.

Mozilla concluded that some sites would show the permission prompt for notifications too early and some that were not interested in improving the user experience through the use of notifications.

Two notification experiments

Mozilla plans to run two notification experiments in Firefox to collect data and base decisions on how to proceed with notifications in Firefox on the analysis of the collected data.

The first experiment runs in Firefox 68 Nightly from April 1st to April 29th 2019:

  • First two weeks: Firefox won’t show notifications if user interaction did not precede it.
  • Last two weeks: Firefox will show an animated icon in the address bar if a notification was suppressed by the browser.

The second experiment uses Telemetry to better understand notification prompts. Mozilla wants to collect data about “circumstances in which users interact with permission prompts” including the time on site and the number of rejections. The data collecting will happen on Firefox’s release channel and “will run for a limited time, with a small percentage of our release user population”.

Firefox users who don’t want to participate in studies can disable study participation and data collecting in the settings:

  1. Load about:preferences#privacy in the browser’s address bar.
  2. Scroll down to the “Firefox Data Collection and Use” section.
  3. Uncheck “Allow Firefox to install and run studies” to block Shield studies.

Closing Words

Depending on where you go on the Web, you may never see notification permission prompts or may be bombarded by them. I turned off notifications in browsers that support it as I don’t require these at all and don’t want to be constantly annoyed.

The best course of action, in my opinion, is to block sites from throwing prompts at users the second the site gets opened in the browser. Firefox displaying an icon in the address bar to indicate that there is a request is fine as well.

Now You: What is your take on notifications? Have you accepted any?

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