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Firefox is on a slippery slope (drewdevault.com)
2023 points by Sir_Cmpwn 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 874 comments



Most of us are on flights today, hence the slow response, but I want to clarify two things:

1. The study is not "still active and ongoing." It was pulled yesterday after the backlash, though that may take up to 24 hours to propagate: https://gizmodo.com/after-blowback-firefox-will-move-mr-robo...

2. Even when "enabled" in the add-on manager, the add-on was completely inert unless a user also manually dove into about:config and specifically enabled a flag related to the add-on. Without taking that deliberate action, it didn't do anything but watch that flag. No headers, no word inversions, etc.

If you'd like to verify my claims, the source lives at https://github.com/mozilla/addon-wr, and initialization is controlled by addon/bootstrap.js.

This doesn't excuse our actions, but I hope it adds some context.


i have a question: why do any of this?

yahoo and google pay hundreds of millions, is this not sufficient? have any of these gimmicks actually helped gain users? it's likely that only Quantum - a purely technical improvement (plus marketing dollars) - made any dent in your user share. it's almost like mozilla keeps expanding into all the shady corners to use up its budget so it can have a bigger budget next year.

many users use firefox for ideological reasons, even when Chrome is/was technically superior. and these reasons are disintegrating at a ludicrous speed. you are throwing away the very users that helped you grow. we are telling you this here, directly and in plain language. much of the same group uses firefox because they can make it work exactly how they want with exactly 0 surprises. some of this died with the web extension addon transition, but it's at least justifiable from a technical & security perspective.

every time you force-feed what should be a visible and removable extension, i have less and less control over my browser and less incentive to to use or recommend it. it's heartbreaking, really. whoever is pushing forward on all this farcical marketing spin and bundling stunts needs to be shown the door, asap. call ads "ads", not "experience enhancements". it is not okay. you guys need to stop this before you lose your most dedicated users that have stuck with you through thick and thin. having been on firefox/nightly for over 10 years, deploying firefox on thousands of PCs, reporting many bugs, and making donations to mozilla, i am this close to saying "fuck it" and taking my friends, relatives and coworkers with me. i'm gonna be one user that costs you 2000 more.

please get this to whoever needs to hear it [and gives enough fucks to actually do something].


The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable. Looking Glass is a really cool idea for users who want it.

But pushing it out broadly, even in an inert state, was not good.

I can assure you that there's an active internal discussion to that effect. I'm hopeful that we'll learn from this.


>The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable

I don't understand why you believe that, especially when it's not an "easter egg" but actually an ad.

When's the last time I upgraded my linux kernel and it came bundled with an "easter egg" kmod, loaded by default, which made lightsaber noises if I wrote 1 to /sys/class/ad/starwars/enabled? Would you think that's appropriate?

You're developing a web browser, a critical piece of software. Almost an OS within an OS these days. You got rid of "cookies are delicious delicacies"[1] (an actual easter egg) because you deemed that the joke wasn't worth obfuscating an important piece of information. 15 years later you're adding stealthy extensions that look like backdoors. What changed?

I can assure you, people who want novelty extensions know where to find them.

[1] https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=213186


My impression (without any internal knowledge on the subject) is that this was intended as a way to promote Firefox to Mr Robot viewers. A lot of people in this thread seem to have this backwards, IIUC - it's not an ad for Mr Robot, it's the onboarding experience of an ad for Firefox that ran in Mr Robot.

The folks behind this presumably wanted this experience to be seamless, and were also trying to keep it under wraps to preserve the surprise factor. This meant that they bypassed the usual processes by which Firefox engineers would have had the opportunity to (a) raise concerns about the deployment approach, and (b) suggest other mechanisms that would have achieved the desired experience while keeping deployment appropriately scoped.

It's really heartbreaking that it ended up this way. The marketing team was trying to think outside the box to bring new users to Firefox, which is crucial if Quantum is to succeed. Surprises and stealth are the bread and butter of marketing, but they didn't think through the dangers of applying those things to engineering. Moreover, the very nature of surprise and stealth meant that they missed the chance for internal feedback before it went live.

A lot of us inside Mozilla are hurting right now. We poured our lives into Quantum for two years for the long-shot dream of giving Firefox a fresh start and saving the web from monopoly. It's frustrating to feel that all our hard-earned goodwill might be squandered by a few people and a botched marketing stunt. But the people behind that stunt were only trying to help, and I'm sure they feel especially terrible right now too.

Mozilla will learn from this. But the mistakes here are probably less sinister than they may appear, and it would be sad if they caused our most closely-aligned users to switch to Chrome.


Thanks for the balanced view of what probably happened here. The question I'm left with is: why can the marketing team deploy SHIELD Studies without engineering oversight? This seems like a policy 101 thing, and has me worried enough to untick the preference until this is (hopefully) addressed by a future statement.


I'd say that this procedural fail makes it impossible to recommend Firefox at present.


So what would you recommed for non-techical users? Does this put Firefox behind Chrome in your opinion?


I guess it has to be chromium. Unsatisfactory situation.


the problem is that this is recurring and the apologies are now mostly meaningless. action, not words are needed.

i would have been happy to write this one off, but the ship has all but sailed. the ice is so thin that you guys are one PR disaster away from a mass exodus of people who trust you.

if mozilla learned anything from the Pocket disaster, it would have immediately made it a removable addon and genuinely apologized. instead, there it is in my toolbar on nightly. i know you guys bought them, but that's a solution that only addresses the privacy aspect - you went from nonremovable Pocket to nonremovable Mozilla/Pocket.

every misstep that has happened with "enhancing the user experience" is an affront to the brilliant engineering you guys are doing. you're literally shedding user-engineers - not unlike yourselves - over these user choice, bundling/marketing double-speak, viralgrab and privacy fiascos.

i'm reasonable. i understood the DRM situation. the content providers make the rules and the consumers make the choices based on where they can consume the content. many people went apeshit with ideology. but mozilla is in full control of everything that is going on right now.

> This meant that they bypassed the usual processes by which Firefox engineers would have had the opportunity to (a) raise concerns about the deployment approach, and (b) suggest other mechanisms that would have achieved the desired experience while keeping deployment appropriately scoped.

i don't know what's worse, that users don't know what's going on, or that the engineers don't. here's an apt description for this: rgba(0,0,0,1)

rather than being delighted to discover features i didn't know where in there, i'm now horrified to discover them. i'm becoming mozilla's unwitting social testing platform and this is unacceptable. it is not what i signed up for with firefox 1.5. there's a reason that Tor's browser is firefox; i think this reason is ripe for re-evaluation.

mozilla is long overdue for automated regression tests of their core values.

plz don't take this comment personally. i have huge respect for the work you do. it's a shame the engineers are not in control of their destiny; they rarely are.


"Mozilla will learn from this" When, at 0.1% user share? Did you look at the browser usage graph recently? This is a pure CFIT action, and I doubt that the browser still has altitude to recover - especially as Mozilla has repeatedly shown that learning from such incident does not, in fact, happen. A single incident, back when FF had ~50% of the eyeballs, could have been acceptable^Wexcusable; in current situation, this seems like deliberate sabotage when seen from outside.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_flight_into_terrain


I got a sinking feeling reading this comment and realizing how easily I could imagine myself in this situation (especially as a Mr. Robot fan). While I do agree that transparency and user control are Firefox's most vital components as an alternative to non-free browsers and any failures there are very concerning, I'm also extremely impressed with the Moz foundation in general and the quality of the quantum updates in particular. I don't think this incident alone is enough to irreversibly tarnish Mozilla's reputation, but it's good to know the issue is being taken seriously internally.


Same. I've deployed some dumb stuff in my time, and when it hits the fan, that sinking feeling is just the worst.


Thanks for your hard work. I'm onboard since that 0.4 Phoenix version. Left you for Chrome for some time... now back to Firefox thanks to Quantum project. You should learn from these kind of mistakes, but I won't leave Firefox, nor stop recommending it instead of Chrome or Edge.


Thank you (and pault) for the kind word and understanding!


The core problem is not Mr Robot but that Firefox contains a function to add and remove addons without even leaving the slightest notification.

This scares me an many others quite a lot.

Thanks for listening.


"But the people behind that stunt were only trying to help, and I'm sure they feel especially terrible right now too."

Are those responsible for this stunt still employed at mozilla? If so, you can say goodbye to trust of most of the technically aware world. I cannot recommend Firefox while idiotic stunts like this are institutionally viable - have you got the message?


It seems like you are saying: If anyone in an organisation does something stupid which makes a bad impact outside the organisation, then they must be punished by losing their job.

I humbly suggest that your message might be a little harsh and unforgiving. Is there anything I can say which will change your mind? Kindness has a place in the world. Please help me preserve it.


Nice explanation. I appreciate that. But it's too late to lock the stable door because the horse had bolted. Sorry guys.


Marketing... Look. Have everyone at job interviews create their own gpg key and send an encrypted and signed email to you. When they manage: welcome to Mozilla. You can't have some coked up marketing maniacs sitting making decisions like that.


> ... it's not an ad for Mr Robot, it's the onboarding experience of an ad for Firefox that ran in Mr Robot.

That doesn't make any sense--if it's an ad for Firefox, why is it in Firefox, which is presumably already being used by the target audience? It should be in some other site or software set up by the Mr Robot production company which directed people to Firefox, no?


I'm not privy to the details, nor have I ever seen Mr Robot. That said, I believe there were hints in the show about using Firefox to solve some mystery. The idea was that users would then go open Firefox (which may have been sitting unused on their machine for years), and then discover that Firefox and Mr Robot were in cahoots. The viewers would presumably find this cool and exciting, but everyone else demonstrably found it creepy.

If I understand correctly, at some point when following the breadcrumbs the user is given the opportunity to opt in to the game. I think everyone now agrees that this opt-in step should have triggered the download and installation of the add-on, rather than the activation of a dormant add-on that was deployed to every single Firefox user.


If Firefox had been sitting unused on their machine for even a few months, they would quickly discover that it was outdated and would have to start a cycle of updating and restarting to get to Quantum (I assume this extension won't work on earlier versions). This would presumably quickly put off most users.


> I can assure you, people who want novelty extensions know where to find them.

I think you agree:

> But pushing it out broadly, even in an inert state, was not good.


> The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable. Looking Glass is a really cool idea for users who want it.

But who actually wants it? Who wants a fundamental part of their daily work suddenly manipulated by somebody else at a whim?

What if Ford decided it would force-push add a cool "Star Wars" tie in to its cars (no pun intended on "force push")? That's a mission-critical part of my life, I drive my kids in it. Don't mess with my car over-the-air without telling me, I don't care if it's all fun and games to you, to me it's my life.

Same for my browser. It's not a toy I use for fun. It's how I see my medical records, pay bills, transport extremely sensitive and confidential information... I don't want anyone to suddenly push "cool fun easter eggs" to it, under any circumstance.


> What if Ford decided it would force-push add a cool "Star Wars" tie in to its cars (no pun intended on "force push")?

FWIW, Tesla includes easter eggs in its cars. You need to go out of your way to use them, and they're pretty much hidden unless you go looking for them, and they keep adding more via OTA updates.

If your question is "Who are easter eggs made for?" then the answer is "the people that care to go looking for them." The difference between a Tesla easter egg (which are almost entirely regarded as delightful) and this easter egg is that this easter egg was poorly executed.

A Tesla easter egg is silly and whimsical. This easter egg parodied something that's potentially threatening. And hell, Firefox has had easter eggs since its first release; go visit `about:mozilla` in your address bar. Saying easter eggs are bad outright is silly, but they should be done in a way that isn't concerning to users.


> The difference between a Tesla easter egg (which are almost entirely regarded as delightful) and this easter egg is that this easter egg was poorly executed.

I don't own a Tesla but I assume a key difference is that the easter eggs exist solely to delight the user whereas this was more of a partnership designed to make Mozilla money.


Per my comment above, there's a misunderstanding here. The goal was to delight Mr Robot viewers and turn them into Firefox users. This was about marketing, not revenue, and I believe no money changed hands.


"delight" viewers?

Hah, good one.


Using the rhetoric of the parent, in case that wasn't clear.


Tesla includes easter eggs in its cars.

Thanks for that warning. I was considering buying one, but now I'm certain that I won't.


Yeah, old chocolate under the seats is awful, I don't like it either.


Um, the parent addressed your comment's point already, and said "But pushing it out broadly, even in an inert state, was not good.". The comment said that addons are a good way of making this work; but disagrees with the mode of deployment (just flat out installing it everywhere, as opposed to a more conditional approach)

See also: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15942722


Callahad agrees with you that "force pushing" the add-on was a terrible, terrible idea.

In the part you quoted they were just pointing out that an optional extension is the correct place to implement this sort of thing. I am sure that if they had just posted this as a separate extension from day one then the target audience of Mr Robot fans would have had fun with the ARG and everyone else would be totally unnafected.


> Callahad agrees with you that "force pushing" the add-on was a terrible, terrible idea.

That aren't Callahad's words. Here I quote him exactly:

"Looking Glass is a really cool idea for users who want it. But pushing it out broadly, even in an inert state, was not good."

Note, not even "bad." Just "not good." And far from "terrible, terrible."


This is really... well, I don't know. You're not comedians. You make the reliable, trustable browser. That's why people use Firefox. And you're spending that capital very generously. Firefox's privacy defaults are not that of a privacy-focused browser. Things like Hello or Pocket are not what people expect from you. Get your things together because there's nobody to push FF via default installs like Chrome, Safari or IE. If you alienate people, they have some nice options at present too.


let's not pretend this is some isolated incident. see: rest of this thread and many threads before it.

EDIT:

> The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable.

no, no it doesn't. especially not when done silently, without confirmation and modifies headers and content on pages i visit.

in what alternate universe is this "reasonable"?

"reasonable" would be to push it to a tile on the new tab page.

EDIT 2: Mr Robot is the exact type of sensationalized shit i want to keep out of my tools.


I won't dispute that history; just trying to add context to this one and agree that it's disappointing.

As to your edit, I absolutely agree. That's what I meant when I said pushing the add-on was not good. I was only suggesting that an add-on is a reasonable place to implement an easter egg, since it's separate from the core browser code. Distributing that add-on is a different matter, and I personally disagree with what happened there.


> I was only suggesting that an add-on is a reasonable place to implement an easter egg, since it's separate from the core browser code.

It was not a common add-on but an ad disguised as a "study." The question is still: why?

Why did that marketing team need that treatment instead of giving to the interested users a link to the normal add on? What was the actually planned scenario? Was it planned that that "study" (the studies are apparently officially "a way of making more informed product decisions based on actual user needs") uses some functionality not available to the normal add-ons? Was it that the normal add-ons wouldn't have access to the API that the "study" would use but that is forbidden to the normal add-ons since v57?


Indeed, that was not a normal extension:

"The addon is actually deployed as an embedded WebExtension, which is subtly different. It has a 40-line legacy XUL/XPCOM bootstrapper controlling whether the WebExtension part of it runs. The legacy code actually could upload your hard drive and isn't bound by any of the WebExtension restrictions. We know it doesn't do anything harmful, but it could have done so.

The WebExtension itself also has <all_urls> and webRequest permissions, granting it the ability to sniff the content and headers of every page."

(Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/talesfromtechsupport/comments/7k7wu... )

The question is still: what was the goal?


I would also take issue with calling it an easter egg. It wasn't an easter egg. It was an advertisement. That they silently installed on people's computers without their notification or knowledge.

That's not okay.


Honest question:

Pretty much every site on the internet does that.

Why are we spending 500 replies and all this developer time on an issue that if done by, say google on their home page, would be considered at best a fun little doodle at worst business as usual?


Firefox isn't a website. This is contrary to user expectation.

There is some degree of deceit present here which bothers me. They pushed out this advertisement through user studies, a feature that ostensibly exists and is designed to improve Firefox. I take issue with it instead serving as a backdoor silently install an advertisement.

If I personally saw this in my add-on page without any knowledge of what it was, I would be alarmed. My first thought would be that my computer had been somehow compromised.

I'm also slightly sympathetic to the idea that these user studies / telemetry can be used to improve FF. By abusing the feature, they encourage people to disable it, which harms Firefox if you take the position that the data gained by telemetry is useful. I certainly no longer have it turned on.

I've seen people link to anecdotes about the user study feature being reenabled after an update was downloaded. All I'll say here is that this is not cool if true.

And really, at the end of the day, why should I put up with any form of advertisements in my actual browser software? Good alternatives exist that don't have advertisements. Advertisements embedded in the product is a huge part of the reason why I switched away from Windows 10 to Linux.

To me, it's a worrying trend between this, Cliqz, the initial integration of pocket, and the the advertisements on the default new tab page.

I'm not particularly sympathetic to the idea that Mozilla needs to pull these kind of anti-user stunts in order to function. We're talking about a foundation that saw revenue of 421 million US Dollars in 2015 and 520 million in 2016.[0]

[0] - https://www.ghacks.net/2017/12/02/mozillas-revenue-increased...


>> My first thought would be that my computer had been somehow compromised.

... your computer was compromised.

I think we should all expect a full accounting from Mozilla on their actions and what data and information was acquired by them or a 3rd party as a result of the 'study' as well as what steps they will take to prevent this from happening again (now that they have a proof of concept (MVP?) surely another 3rd party can plant their own easter eggs in the future.


>I'm also slightly sympathetic to the idea that these user studies / telemetry can be used to improve FF. By abusing the feature, they encourage people to disable it, which harms Firefox if you take the position that the data gained by telemetry is useful. I certainly no longer have it turned on.

Count me in here... I was opposed to this feature and commented about making it Opt-in when it was introduced, however I did leave it enabled on a few of my systems believing it would only be used to improve the technology of the browser.

It is now (or will be soon) disabled on every system I manage...

Good Job Mozilla...


I think it's about domains of control: I expect that Google controls which image appears on their home page; I expect that I control which add-ons are installed in my Firefox.

If this code had been in core-Firefox, we'd never have noticed it. Counter-intuitively, maybe it wouldn't have felt as invasive, because I know that Mozilla controls core-Firefox, not me. (And I choose to defer to their judgement, because my other options are to defer to Google or Apple.)


>If this code had been in core-Firefox, we'd never have noticed it. Counter-intuitively, maybe it wouldn't have felt as invasive, because I know that Mozilla controls core-Firefox, not me. (And I choose to defer to their judgement, because my other options are to defer to Google or Apple.)

The code is available. I'm pretty sure the tor project would have noticed it.


I expect advertisements from a website.

I do not expect advertisements from my web browser - and I don't think that's an unreasonable line to draw.


I feel like this is way overblown but I think the logic here is that Mozilla claims to be an ally of privacy and internet freedom. While Google obviously, does not.


It is not overblown. Many of us powerusers / influencers stood by Firefox because of privacy. Latest failures have damaged my trust considerably.

To add insult to injury I don't see an apology or anything similar from Mozilla (or callahad here on hn) that would show me they understand the extent of this issue - how badly they f* up on how many occasions.

It's ironic, right when browser can finally stand next to Chrome in terms of performance...


[flagged]


Then people need to learn to slow down and back off - my privacy is a major part of my time's value. I will gladly spend a few half-seconds longer to be more private and more secure on an XUL-based browser rather than ever use an insecure WebExtensions-backed multi-process mess that accesses the Web without my consent or control.


apart from the fact that mozilla has standards it (supposedly) holds itself to, firefox is a beloved tool. It's not a piece of content, it's a tool. My content can be messed with, for sure. My tools can not.


Because many people use Firefox precisely because it's not Google?


Because Google is an advertisement company.


> modifies headers and content

No, it doesn't do that until you explicitly activate it.

The "pretty reasonable" core idea is just having that flag available in about:config or on the addons website or similar.


Please note this comment isn't specifically to you, but, I guess more to any mozzarellian that comes across this comment

- - -

for other reasons I wanna comment on the "seems pretty reasonable" bit

"In this day and age" what with fear and stuff being a main chunk of news , perhaps using a webext (which can really only modify a page to do any tricky cool stuff) is a bad thing?

(especially when it plays off of the pre-existing FUD by referencing hacking n' stuff!, but not my point)

same for any unexpected icons appearing in the toolbars! People are being told to be weary when using their browsers: look out for signs the pages might be fake or messed with, look out for unexplained installation of programs and addons, being hammered in from every secure site!

Its worrying that, I know it would fuck with my parents pretty bad WHEN it would be enabled, because there isn't much point in developing something for it to not be enabled! Especially when money is probably on the table, when higher ups probably rammed this through normal steps designed to prevent this sort of stuff (again)

I need something to give my parents, something that is ethical, something that cares about them, and something that works: chrome still works better for them, and mozilla seems really really keen on blurring the lines for the other ones (I know I know, it requires users to opt into shield studies etc, but man, I had a talk with my ma, "do you wanna contribute back to mozilla in this way?", please don't punish us for asking other less-techy people that.)

If you guys need easter eggs, probably keep them off to the side, in the settings or about sections


> People are being told to be weary when using their browsers

Freudian typo.


Yes, after the Dark Ages, Browser Wars, and burying Opera, I am increasingly weary to use a browser, any browser. And I am getting weary of the new "this site best viewed in Chrome", but it's almost as if nobody else gives a damn. Off to Palemoon, I guess? (And just when I thought that the new FF was looking good)


> The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable

Erm no. I don't use a browser to have fun. I certainly don't want any surprises, and coming from Firefox/Mozilla this is very, very disappointing. How can we trust you guys to do the right thing from now on?


I do use a browser to have fun. I still don't want the browser having fun at my expense, and certainly not for advertising.

(the upsidedownternet is over 10 years old at this point - http://www.ex-parrot.com/pete/upside-down-ternet.html is from at least 2006 - awkward out of touch big company advertising isn't fun)


That's why you'd want it as an add-on, as opposed to core browser code. It's reasonable for all the silly crap that no one wants to be in the add-on directory. It's not reasonable for them to push the add-on to people that didn't choose to install it. That's the part I'm upset about.


Did you read pass the first sentence?

He explains that including that addon for everyone by default is NOT OK. What he means by the first sentence is that using addon for easters eggs is OK (but users need to install it themselfs).


To be fair, Mozilla had a long history of easter eggs. So do other things that you'd want to take seriously (Tesla and Google for example). Easter eggs are a part of software culture whether you like it or not.

> How can we trust you guys to do the right thing from now on?

The same way you can continue to trust the GNU/Linux system which contains easter eggs.


Oh the same way I can trust Canonical to include advertisements in Ubuntu? ( https://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2221490/eff-urges-... )

Easter-eggs, to me, means something like "press a key combination, get a list of developers" or "go through the levels in a fast time, unlock a secret level" or "on march 14th there's a message about Pi day". It doesn't mean "if you change xyz settings, we'll sell some control to your system to a third party for our profit".


This is an advertisement in the form of an easter egg, that’s not common and not OK


>>To be fair, Mozilla had a long history of easter eggs.

This is not an easter Egg, I wish people would stop calling it that.

This is a Paid Advertisement, injected with out my permission into my software. AKA Malware or Adware.

Companies pay thousands of dollars a year to prevent that type of software from being loaded on their system.

Firefox DOES NOT have a long history of being a distributor or malware or adware...

Easter Eggs are funny things that Dev put into code that make people chuckle but have no impact on the actual software

To call this a "Easter egg" is naive and ignorant. This is a Paid Promotional Advertisement of a Large Commercial project not an Easter egg


> The same way you can continue to trust the GNU/Linux system which contains easter eggs.

By which you mean, not at all, I assume.


For me it's not about this particular oversight. As parent comment and the link mentions, it's about opening a tab and getting a bunch of distractions, adding pocket, hello, etc. It's about bad decision after bad decision. I get the feeling that the user experience in Firefox gets worse over time.


This.

Whenever a story like this happens, I'm left wondering who came up with those ideas and who okayed them. From my perspective, anyone who thinks those things (as they were implemented) were justified is not suited to make decisions in a project like Firefox, period.

Another comment in this thread asked what will be done to make sure something like this doesn't ever happen again. I am aware that probably, nobody here can answer that question. But in essence, this is the thing Mozilla should be considering and communicating clearly in the near future.


> But pushing it out broadly, even in an inert state, was not good.

I don't see how "push" is even useful here. It's ARG content; teasing players into actively seeking out content is the bread and butter of ARGs. While it's certainly part of the premise that they exist as a sort of overlay on top of reality, well-run ones usually have a clear concept of which media are "in-game" to discourage people getting off into the weeds of fan-made content and unintended red herrings. The game is typically not meant to leak into unrelated media (such as the add-ons tab of Firefox on my company-issued laptop). Good examples of wider distribution for the initial round of hints to advertise the existence of an ARG include the "corruption" in a Halo 2 trailer (I Love Bees) and the heat-sensitive ink on the Nine Inch Nails Year Zero CD.

> I can assure you that there's an active internal discussion to that effect. I'm hopeful that we'll learn from this.

Here's one thing that somebody at Mozilla ought to learn (though I worry that the people who most need to learn this are going to be above the fray of the internal discussion): This was absolutely not a mere PR misstep, as the current non-apologies from official channels suggest. The primary problem now isn't that users misunderstood what Looking Glass is, it's that Mozilla management misunderstands what Looking Glass represents. If the Mozilla brand stands for anything at all, it stands for the mission of building the future of the web on behalf of the full spectrum of end users and developers instead of parochial and shortsighted corporate interests. The fact that Looking Glass was deployed in this way, with any internal alarm over it clearly either absent or overruled until after the fact, sends the opposite message. That message was further reinforced by the "clarifications" issued in response to the backlash.

Right now, I feel like any apology is likely to ring hollow. All indications so far are that upper management badly wants this sort of thing and that there will just be another flavor of it next year, as though it's just a matter of tweaking the recipe until they find a version of the pill that people will swallow.

I really love the work you guys do, but I feel like it's being undermined by exactly the sort of thing Mozilla is supposed to be the antidote to. I imagine many Mozillans feel the same way. So what the heck is going on?


> The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable

It's fine if you believe this, but it means I'm not using your browser. I switched to Safari today.


I interpret this as you switching from an browser by a relatively small organization that has certainly made some mistakes but is backing down with a relatively small amount of user feedback to one by a much larger organization that has less motivation to acquiesce to users' desires and less motivation to respect users' privacy.

Also, as others pointed out, this sentence you quote (probably) isn't as bad as your interpretation (I think I interpreted as you did, too, on first read). If you want an easter egg in your browser, and you install an add-on to get it, what's bad about that? The interpretation that "add-on" means "installed by default by Mozilla" seems off compared to what was said elsewhere here (though as it happens, this add-on was installed by default, hence the interpretation that this was okay... but read on, and clearly callahad is saying that it wasn't okay to install by default).

I think the statement is poorly worded, but with the larger context, I'll give Mozilla a chance here... or else I'll use a browser that I think is more privacy conscious and that is more likely to listen to its users, not a browser that I think is less privacy conscious and less likely to listen to its users.


The problem is that you guys can't even see how wrong it was. Only when it is starting to gain publicity and blowing in your face, then you are even "starting" to have a discussion about it.

There were very disappointing answers by mozilla employees on r/firefox.


> I'm hopeful that we'll learn from this.

Consider for a moment what you think the lesson is.

Now that you have it...

(have it? great)

... is it different from the lesson when Pocket was made part of the browser?


I call shenanigans. about:mozilla is an Easter egg, this was an ad and it put a big dent on Mozilla's reputation. I hope said "active internal discussion" leads to something beyond a few corporate hollow apologies.


I think we're all sensitive to malware that installs Add-Ons. I just removed one from a friend's computer the other day.

What % of your users did you think you would frighten -- I guess it was acceptably low?


Then why were the tickets private?


> The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable.

Yes, deploying an easter egg via an add-on is pretty reasonable, hell if it's out of the way enough even in the core browser. But Mozilla didn't deploy an easter egg: they deployed an advertisement.


> The core idea (deploy an easter egg via an add-on) seems pretty reasonable

I am stunned. I need to think about it for a few days, but this, to me is enough of a reason to stop using FF. Force feeding users this way is not even Chrome-style; it is early Internet Explorer like behavior.


What's unreasonable about deploying an easter egg via an add-on?

Dan is saying "Easter egg yay, auto-include in browser nay".


> Dan is saying "Easter egg yay, auto-include in browser nay".

Let me clarify: I do not want Easter eggs in my browser. At all. If you have to insert it, doing it via an add on is better than via core capability (I guess), but either way it is a very bad idea. And I think (correct me if I am wrong) that it is not "auto include nay". It is rather "Easter egg yay, auto-include yay, auto-activate nay".

At best an Easter egg is some useless junk and at worst it is a possible backdoor which can be activated by mistake on the developer side (as happened) or by a user fat fingering some input.

Sadly, I do not trust Mozilla anymore. It is just another evil empire competing to capture any user information it can. Any time there is another non-removable "feature" added I could bet 10:1 that the goal is to try putting yet another hook into the user and "good news: we are enhancing user experience again" is a clumsy PR. My 2c.


> I do not want Easter eggs in my browser

So don't install the addon. Why is everyone missing Dan's point? He's saying the current method (Available on AMO, you can install it if you want it) is what it should have been from the start.

BTW, they didn't get paid for this.


Yet, here we are.


You're missing the point.


> i have a question: why do any of this?

As far as I can tell, to get Mr. Robot viewers to try Firefox Quantum.

The Mr. Robot episode from Wednesday, as aired in the U.S., had a Firefox ad on a commercial break.

(Note that I'm not endorsing or excusing the ad extension or the manner in which it was delivered, or claiming a positive effect on the number of users. Having contributed to Quantum technically, I'm very upset about this.)


you mean the few remaining Mr. Robot users? Egads. Never in my life have I struggled to get through a season. Season 2 was just mind-numbingly slow. I quit for a while.


So sad to read stuff like this, but you're actually right.

This sucks.


> many users use firefox for ideological reasons, even when Chrome is/was technically superior.

I was here since Netscape, AOL, prodigy, and Mozilla save me from the hell of IE.

I didn't move to Chrome not cause Firefox was inferior. It's because firefox can handle 100s of tabs and Chrome crash when I have a fraction of that.

You're right on the ideology but it also can handle 100s tabs.


Thank you for your response. I wanted to add to what I'm sure is a chorus of commentary that your team is currently dealing with. But I don't know if this specific point has been made.

Your team has just ruined a huge amount of trust by not appropriately reviewing and documenting this feature. This goodwill is the most important capital Mozilla has.

Your team is continuing to make this situation worse by not posting any official response on Mozilla's communication channels, and by arbitrarily censoring incoming comments.

It would be appropriate for all members of your team to question the processes that led to this, and drive structural changes to ensure this never happens again. This includes the continued inaction of Mozilla's communications team.


I'm unsure if this was actually callahad's team doing this.

But regardless, basically the entire company is on flights right now, and it's the weekend after an intensive all-company event, and everyone is tired, and it's the freaking weekend. Wait a bit.

(Also, the Gizmodo article is an official response, as is https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/lookingglass. There will probably be more, idk.)


You maybe "unsure", but for an outsider reading Callahad's response, it looks like so. Besides, it's meant to be read as: "one of your teams".

Also, your all-company event maybe "intensive", but it doesn't matter one whit. Why? When your corporation's actions are raising a damn ugly stink ruining Mozilla's good will, you're better off paying immediate attention even if it's the "freaking weekend".

It's elementary common sense.


Given the responses to emails folks have sent internally, they are paying immediate attention, they just haven't gotten to the point of making public statements aside from the Gizmodo article.


> 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.

Is this satire?


This incident did not, as far as I can tell, harm anyone's security or privacy. This add-on doesn't appear to track you, send your information to anyone, or grant access to your system to anyone else. People are upset to find the add-on on their systems, but what it actually does is not incompatible with the above paragraph.


Yea, I guess.


I am more and more under the impression that the best satire is written without the intention to do so. There are so many things said and written by public figures nowadays that a sane mind could never come up with, even if they tried.

So, from a certain perspective, yes it is.


Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry I hadn't seen this earlier; I stopped reading the HN thread a while ago. I have added this to my article:

>It has been clarified that an about:config flag must be set for this addon’s behavior to be visible. This improves the situation considerably, but I do not think it exenorates Mozilla and I stand firm behind most of my points. The study has also been rolled back by Mozilla, and Mozilla has issued statements [0] to the media [1] justifying the study (no apology has been issued).

[0] https://gizmodo.com/mozilla-slipped-a-mr-robot-promo-plugin-...

[1] https://gizmodo.com/after-blowback-firefox-will-move-mr-robo...


> no apology has been issued

This is my problem, right here. To err is human, but I would expect a level of contriteness, rather than doubling down on the "nothing to see here" attitude.


It doesn't improve the situation at all, which is that Mozilla has the capability to silently install addons in a default setting.


I am not a Firefox user[1], but the thing I am finding it difficult to understand about this brewhaha is:

1. Aside from how it reaches the users machine, is the extension on or off when it gets installed invisibly?

2. If it's off, why push it at all? If the user is expected to give consent at some point down the line for it to be on, why not just have the user actually install the extension at the time of consent, rather than prefetching?

[1] work gives me a Chrome OS laptop, and I find the lock-in of sync-ing bookmarks and things pretty real.


> Is the extension on or off when it gets installed invisibly?

You could argue technicalities for either, but semantically, it's off by default.

The add-on is implemented as an "embedded webextension" which is wholly contained by an outer "bootstrapped add-on." The bootstrapped add-on controls whether or not the embedded webextension gets initialized, and that's all it does.

The bootstrapped add-on is literally just this one file: https://github.com/mozilla/addon-wr/blob/59659431fd2a75c33ac...

The outer shell is on by default. The embedded webextension is only initialized by the bootstrapped add-on if the user manually flips the "extensions.pug.lookingglass" preference in about:config. That preference is off by default.

> why not just have the user actually install the extension at the time of consent, rather than prefetching?

That's what we're moving to by pulling the add-on from Firefox and posting it on AMO.


I just want to say thank you for engaging here!

Mozilla fucking up like this still feels like a friend fucking up. It's frustrating and disappointing precisely because I expect Mozilla to be better than this.


Err... No. The first time around (Pocket), yes. The second time (changing my explicitly set default search engine) - maybe. But this? Bundling ads with my browser? Not acknowledging it is a problem? No.


Don't forget the Cliqz debacle. And that in privacy oriented Germany. I'm in Berlin right now, and they don't appear to use a NFC card for public transport. In contrast to NL and UK they're still using tickets here.


> That's what we're moving to by pulling the add-on from Firefox and posting it on AMO.

Why was this not done in the first place?


I'm not personally aware of the answer to that question, but I expect it will be covered in a postmortem in the coming days.


I am anxiously waiting for the postmortem. As others have written, this is not a first such incident that goes against (perceived) core values of Mozilla. Either you need to pull your act together and change the process that leads to such decisions or you need to come clean (and admit that you are selling out your users for profit, the way Google does). Well, you can also ignore the situation and public will understand that you chose the latter...

If you do decide to come clean, it would help a lot if you gave assurances about what you have learned and how you will change the process so that this doesn't happen again. Trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose.

I must say I am sorry to see all this happening though. I have always hated Chrome (a bit less than IE, but for other reasons) and am (still) your loyal user. I even enabled telemetrics recently (which means _a lot_ - there is no other piece of software that gets this willingly from me) - needless to say, they are turned off again. We'll see how the postmortem turns out.


Gentle question:

was it a candid easter egg ?

I feel a bit distanced about the whole situation. The issues I've seen are:

- getting money from secret extension - potential security risk - bad will from mozilla

the name shield studies feels a bit scary, a CIA paranoia tone but anyway.. I believe that's the era that is tense and what seems to be an easter egg as you say, ends up as a brutally negative thing.


So basically, much ado about nothing. I am glad you engaged, thank you. People are too quick to overreact these days.


People are too quick to overreact these days. - it's as much fun a burst of dopamine and involvement as any gamified mobile game.

And it's not like we have any massive problems to unite against (that we can actually feel like we can help with).


> You could argue technicalities for either, but semantically, it's off by default.

That’s a very dangerous type of justification there, not one I expected someone at Mozilla to get that wrong.


He's being more generous than he needs to be. It is off by default.


> It was pulled yesterday after the backlash

The fact that it took a backlash to pull something that Mozilla engineers built and deployed is the worrisome element that the post and many people discussed.

> This event tells us that “Firefox studies” into a backdoor for advertisements, and I will never trust it again. But it doesn’t matter - you’re going to re-enable it on the next update. You know what that means? I will never trust Firefox again.

That's the real problem. There's already a strong negative taste after incidents like https://twitter.com/dherman76/status/433320156496789504

> Excited to share the launch of @mozilla @firefox Tiles program, the first of our user-enhancing programs

The default assumption that Mozilla is "one of the good guys" may have been there years ago, but in 2017 after many stumbles people are calling Mozilla's actions into question. The impression Mozilla's actions left upon 'sir_cmpwn wasn't based on an overnight reaction -- it was years of questionable actions. Trust is incredibly hard to earn, but very easy to lose


This looks like an authoritative answer from a Mozilla coworker, and it's totally incompatible with the message and tone of the linked article "Firefox is on a slippery slope" which makes it sound like the extension was on by default.

So who is telling the truth?

The one thing I know is that I am writing from a Firefox right now and don't see headers, inversions etc. at all. The examples given in the article should have all been inverted, right?


This discussion on Reddit[0] would indicate that quite a few people saw this behavior unexpectedly, so even though it was off by default, it came as an unpleasant surprise to people who had opted in. It seems that they thought they were opting into Mozilla-lab-like experiments for improving the browser. Instead, they get an ad/easter egg that makes them think they-- or the site they are visiting-- have been hacked.

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/7k8pf7/firefox...


It has also already caused economic damage as well as waisting a lot of people's time. https://reddit.com/r/talesfromtechsupport/comments/7k7wum/wh...


This. Apparently, we're still waiting for a Therac-class incident before "don't mess with critical infrastructure for what seems harmless fun to you" will even register on the radar with the "move fast and break other people's things" crowd.


That story, uh. If you cut off the last couple sentences it would be somewhat convincing. In its entirety it just suggests a very broken process. Where an automatic extension invalidates firefox, but renaming chrome.exe to firefox doesn't invalidate firefox!?


Or, they have multiple scripts running in the background which assume there is a `firefox` process. In such a case the smallest (and quickest) change is to rename the binary.


Perhaps Chrome is also supported by the testing infrastructure, but they chose to use only firefox?


Incredible. Mozilla really screwed up on this one.


mozilla has something called "system-extension" (the name changes over the years) that never shows up to the end user, and sole purpose is to enable/disable things in the users browsers.

the use, as far as I know, has always been to disable broken features in older versions of users that do not update. pretty ok and necessary.

but this makes me think they are using it to a/b test or capacity plan for marketing campaigns now :(


I agree it is useful to disable broken features, or other things in software that is not getting updates

I completely disagree this need to be hidden from the end user, it should be FULLY and COMPLETELY transparent what is being disabled, added, or changed. There should be an "about/system-extension" page where a person could go and see everything that is doing or has done, and even optionally disable it if they desire.


> pretty ok and necessary.

There is NEVER a ethical reason for a dark update channel to exist. Altering the functionality of installed software without consent or notification is an act of sabotage, even when done by the vendor. If you want to disable broken features you prompt the user to have them disabled. Worst case (say something that allows malware to propagate or puts them or others at active risk) you disable it and display a message telling exactly what has happened.


Can you point to a specific comment where someone saw the behavior unexpectedly?

I've only seen people that saw the addon being installed unexpectedly.

That doesn't lead to thinking any sites have been hacked.


Even if the add-on is "enabled," it's doesn't initialize itself unless a specific about:config value is also manually flipped: https://github.com/mozilla/addon-wr/blob/59659431fd2a75c33ac...

And, for good measure, here's an official quote confirming that we're pulling the add-on from Firefox: https://gizmodo.com/after-blowback-firefox-will-move-mr-robo...


It would be easier to forgive if this was the first time Mozilla pulled this sort of thing. Instead, we see Mozilla making this same kind of mistake -- i.e. trying to turn what is otherwise a great browser into some kind of "platform" for things that do not actually serve users -- over and over again.

It's great that it was pulled, but what about removing the ability to silently install add-ons? Give up the power to make this mistake in the future if you want forgiveness.


Absolutely. The whole ordeal reminds me awfully of Ajit Pai's tone as he kills net neutrality, sounding as if everything was fine until net neutrality came along.

Although different, this too brushes off this one instance as a mistake, and entirely disregards the rest of the article, not even trying to address or explain the rest of Mozilla's recent borderline malicious behavior.

A serious fork is long overdue, if only it didn't take a corporation as big as Mozilla to undo their bad deeds.


I'm just one DevRel engineer on a layover; I'm not the right person to answer those broader questions. Not trying to be dismissive, just trying to engage in the areas where I'm most able.


Do you have an insight into whether or not Mozilla will issue an update that removes the ability to push add-ons in this fashion?


Bah. This was something that looked spooky but ran exactly zero payload by itself. It implies failed processes inside mozilla, but nothing malicious.

I still want a justification of the cliqz thing, sure, but I don't demand it in relation to this.


I'm glad it doesn't do anything, but if I saw this in my extensions list, I would think it was malware. That does have an impact. I could have spent hours with my hair on fire trying to figure out how my system was compromised, and I wouldn't be surprised if others have. I'd expect better from an org that has to deal with security issues all the time.


> callahad 4 hours ago [-]

Even if the add-on is "enabled," it's doesn't initialize itself unless a specific about:config value is also manually flipped

Attack surface 101 / reason nobody else does this


How is this a particular attack surface? Changing an about:config value requires quite a bit of effort from an attacker and enabling this extension would not actually pose a security risk either. There's plenty of better about:config values to be changing, too.


> The one thing I know is that I am writing from a Firefox right now and don't see headers, inversions etc. at all. The examples given in the article should have all been inverted, right?

"It involved sideloading a sketchy browser extension which will invert text that matches a list of Mr. Robot-related keywords like “fsociety”, “robot”, “undo”, and “fuck”, and does a number of other things like adding an HTTP header to certain sites you visit."

Only if HN is on the list of "certain sites". It's also irrelevant because the extension offers me no value so Mozilla was not acting in my best interest.


OK, so I got that wrong with the "certain sites".

But still, the fact that the extension was not active unless you mess around in about:config is a crucial fact, which should not have been omitted in an highly critical article, specially if they use words like "Mozilla, you fucked up bad, and you still haven’t apologised. The study is still active and ongoing".

I feel misinformed by that article, to say the less.


> Only if HN is on the list of "certain sites".

If that is the case (I'm not saying it's not, just that I don't know)... why did the extension even need to exist? Presumably "certain sites" are partner sites participating in the promotion. If they are participating and (I assume) they control their own content, why didn't they just invert those words or whatever else they wanted to do with the content when they served it?

I'm very confused about why this needed to roll out as a browser extension at all.


The articles on this whole controversy describe it as an ARG - an Alternate Reality Game. I don't know exactly how this ARG works, but ARGs in general are like scavenger hunts - players investigate what's causing the changes, which give them hints as to where to look next.

So presumably it was implemented as a browser extension so game players would be able to find the browser extension, which would give them hints about what to do next.


The add-on doesn't do anything unless you go to about:config and turn it on.


It seems that Mozilla didn't get paid to implement this extension and force it through channels reserved for usability studies:

"We didn't make any money off of this; it was intended as an easter egg in Firefox for fans of the show." https://www.metafilter.com/171227/Your-Reality-Is-Driven-By-...

"Mozilla wasn't paid for the Mr. Robot tie-in, Kaykas-Wolff [Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla's chief marketing officer] said. "We've enjoyed a growing partnership with the show and the show's audience," he said." https://www.cnet.com/au/news/mozilla-backpedals-after-mr-rob...

It doesn't matter if the extension was not activated on installation because the check for the extensions.pug.lookingglass on line 22 https://github.com/mozilla/addon-wr/blob/master/addon/bootst... can easily be gone in the next version of the extension.

Not getting paid for this ad is even worse in my opinion. Mr. Robot is produced by Universal Cable Productions, which is part of NBCUniversal, which in turn is owned by Comcast.

Your marketing people are probably laughing behind your back, they got the dork developers to implement this ad for free, be proud of it and even defend it in online forums. As they say: "The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes." https://www.reddit.com/r/StarWarsBattlefront/comments/7cff0b...

Your marketing people got to play with the big boys in mass media and are now owned some favors. Think about that for a minute.


So let me get this straight.

Mozilla did a free advertisement for Comcast owned TV Series Mr. Robot?

What The Proverbial F?


Thank you for your response but I don't trust you. I don't believe your characterization of how this extension works is correct. That is a huge problem, it means I do not trust Mozilla.

What's being done to make sure this never happens again? How could something like this happen after the Pocket fiasco?


You don't have to trust me, that's why I linked to the source. Check out L21-24 in bootstrap.js.

You can verify that this is the same code as your own local copy of the add-on by visiting about:debugging, clicking "enable add-on debugging," and hitting "Debug" under the Looking Glass add-on.

Here's a press release confirming that we're pulling the add-on: https://gizmodo.com/after-blowback-firefox-will-move-mr-robo...

I'm an engineer in Developer Relations. I'm not in management, I wasn't in the decision chain for this. I'm not here to defend that decision. I'm just here to try to explain, factually, the technical aspects of what happened, and to then reflect your sentiments internally.


I appreciate you taking the time and the work you do.

Let me state the obvious for your management: violating user trust is unacceptable. I expect Mozilla to be user-centric but I can no longer take that for granted.

This is a very dangerous action because it's not something that can be taken back. The addon can be removed but it shows very poor judgement on the part of Mozilla leadership and now I have to doubt all future motives.


I can assure you that such a sentiment has been expressed, and that the discussion is still active.


Can you provide more information on what is being discussed and what conclusions are being reached? From an outsider, it seems pretty cut-and-dry that this was a mistake and it should never happen again. If that premise is accepted, there really isn't much room for discussion. In the words of Tom Hanks - "I am not a smart man", so can you provide more insight into what is being discussed?


> If that premise is accepted, there really isn't much room for discussion.

How do you make sure it never happens again?

(That question alone deserves a lot of discussion)


Then I suggest that you open the bugs that are now private that discuss this.


When someone says "I don't trust you", "I don't believe you", spews a series of questions, and then responds by reiterating their statements without reference to your answers, that person is not so much listening to your perspective, as they are fantasizing about stepping on your face.

I actually appreciate your thoughts, but maybe it would be better to let Mozilla, the company, respond in a full blogpost.

One man does not stand well against an internet mob out for blood.


>I actually appreciate your thoughts, but maybe it would be better to let Mozilla, the company, respond in a full blogpost.

I agree, callahad is not responsible for this fiasco but I'm willing to bet Mozilla's response is gonna look something like this: https://m.imgur.com/obGMl8A

They keep pulling the same shit time after time... For me, it's time to abandon ship... (and I'm really sad to say that)


What are you engineering? Mozilla's relationship with other developers?


Regarding the "Pocket fiasco", I would suggest that Mozilla resolved that in the best way possible:

http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2017/02/mozilla-acquire-pocket-op...


The best way possible would involve learning a lesson that prevented it from happening again.


Pocket is a useful addition to Firefox. People just got a bee in their bonnet because it was a proprietary service that they didn't ask for. If a similar feature was rolled out that Mozilla developed internally, nobody would've batted an eyelid.

Now that Mozilla owns Pocket, and is open-sourcing the technology behind it, we get the best of all worlds, a useful addition to Firefox that is developed in line with the ethos of Mozilla.

Lastly, the whole Pocket saga was a storm in a teacup. Want to know what most people did when they didn't want to use it? They didn't click on it. If you're offended that a specific logo was present in your browser, I'd suggest you're in a vocal minority.


Thank you for the missing context.

Would you (or someone else in the know) please clarify what additional user data (if any) the default-enabled bootstrap add-on caused to be collected when the extensions.pug.lookingglass preference was disabled? I did some searching, but it's unclear to me whether SHIELD studies automatically cause any additional data to be collected and to whom that might go. I think the support site[1] could do a lot better addressing that topic. For example, it mentions (but does not link to) the default data collection policy.

Does the fact that this study didn't pop an opt-in UI definitively mean that whatever additional user data might be collected was all within Mozilla's privacy policy? The support site says that opt-in step, "will happen when a particular study needs to collect data that is not covered by default data collection policy." Does this apply when the study is just a bootstrap, and the actual extension is pref-enabled?

Lastly, I appreciate that you've being candid in sharing your personal feelings about the inappropriateness of pushing this extension. I'd like Mozilla to go one step further and comment on whether an extension of this nature is even appropriate to consider for a SHIELD study. Based on my reading of the feature's design and history (starting at the wiki[2] and branching out from there), as well as the aforementioned user-facing documentation, I believe SHIELD is intended for user research into features/ideas intended to be shipped to all Firefox users. I didn't find definitive guidelines on what constitutes an appropriate study for this program (if aren't publicly available, that's something Mozilla might want to address in the wake of this controversy), but I would disqualify Looking Glass in at least four different ways:

* Fleeting - whatever appeal it has to its target audience has a short shelf-life * Frivolous - it has no utility and doesn't substantially improve any aspect of the user experience * Hyper-targeted - it's only for Mr Robot fans * Advertising-related - this adds an extra level of privacy concern for users

User research is a delicate matter requiring a lot of care to balance collection with privacy. To enroll (or stay enrolled) in these programs, users must be confident that they aren't trading too much privacy and are getting tangible benefits in return. Looking Glass fails the privacy confidence test for being advertising. It fails the tangible benefit test for being fleeting, frivolous, and hyper-targeted.

SHIELD isn't some convenient way to push features. It's a user research tool. Studies ought to have the gravity that the term implies. Mozilla hasn't just failed to respect user's concern over their privacy, it has also undercut its own user research efforts.

[1] https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/shield [2] https://wiki.mozilla.org/Firefox/Shield [3] https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/lookingglass


> Would you (or someone else in the know) please clarify what additional user data (if any) the default-enabled bootstrap add-on caused to be collected when the extensions.pug.lookingglass preference was disabled?

It did not collect anything. It just checked whether that preference was enabled upon startup of the browser and then disabled itself, if it was not.


Respectfully, I don’t think this answers my question.

My question is not about what Looking Glass itself does. I can see that in its source. My question is whether Firefox or SHIELD collected additional data because the addon was enabled, even when the pref (and therefore) extension wasn’t. That’d require going through the source for the browser, SHIELD, and Normandy, which is quite a bit more challenging.

I’m hoping for a more authoritative answer with some evidence and preferably from a Mozilla representative.


I can see how you wanted to give people something fun, and I think firefox's heart is in the right place. But, Browsers are not games. It's a critical piece of software, like the operating system on an airplane. You wouldn't put an easter egg in an airline's operating system, would you?


I don't understand what makes this a "study". What were you studying?


"study" is just an internal term for the method of deploying addons that way; they're called "Shield Studies" and usually are for A/B testing. This wasn't an actual study, he's just using the internal term for that kind of addon.


> Even when "enabled" in the add-on manager, the add-on was completely inert unless a user also manually dove into about:config and specifically enabled a flag related to the add-on. Without taking that deliberate action, it didn't do anything but watch that flag. No headers, no word inversions, etc.

Wow. So is Drew DeVault lying, or confused? Was there a bug that turned it on for him? This is odd.


Embedded WebExtensions are a bit weird, since they're kind of a hybrid of our legacy and modern add-on APIs, so I'd just bet on confusion.

This is the only code that runs when the add-on is enabled: https://github.com/mozilla/addon-wr/blob/59659431fd2a75c33ac...

Lines 22 and 39 determine if the inner WebExtension starts up.


"Confused" is the correct answer. So was I, or I'd have called that out and asked that it be corrected in prepublication review - and it would have been.

As I apologize for the error, I'd also mention that the principle of charity is a thing for a reason. One may very usefully cite errors in published articles and request their correction without also suggesting their presence may be an attempt at deliberate deception. Certainly such things do occur, but we need not assume them, even provisionally, in the absence of any evidence that the error is anything other than an honest mistake. Such behavior when made a norm debases our discourse; such behavior when indulged even occasionally risks its normalization. I think the quality of discourse on Hacker News merits preservation and enhancement, rather than debasement. But perhaps you disagree.


> Certainly such things do occur, but we need not assume them, even provisionally, in the absence of any evidence that the error is anything other than an honest mistake.

Personally, I do not see "lying, confused, or bug? this is odd" as an accusation of lying.


hey just want to chime in to say thanks for adding the context.

do you know where i can read up on the decision being made to deploy this extension thru the shield thing?


"study"


It's just our internal jargon, nothing nefarious intended. Things shipped over Shield are called "studies," A/B tests in the installer are called "funnelcakes," etc.


Are you saying that you're communicating the word "studies" in place of "advertisement" when the Shield option is presented to users during installation of Firefox?


This is the first time that channel has been so misused. I participated for a long while, and stopped some months ago only because the studies I was getting weren't useful to me and tended to impair my experience, rather than because of any issue of trustworthiness. I certainly am less likely to reenable the shield channel now than previously, but I also don't see the sense in making more out of this than the already eminently sufficient debacle that it is.


While I agree, in this case I think he's just using the phrase from the end of the blog post.


[flagged]


Jesus man, have some respect for other humans, and some leniency where it's warranted. It's possible to be critical of Mozilla and still be courteous. (Also see: my own criticism of Mozilla in this thread)


You can treat people with decency, but respect has to be earned

Jordan Peterson to Student: "You can't force me to respect you" https://youtu.be/WDLIR71Pe0A?t=184


Cute video - You do you, I'll keep asking strangers on HN to not be dicks to people they've never met, who have nothing to do with the issue at hand.


Please tell me why anyone should bother being respectful of or lenient towards those who won't show the same decent behavior? They're messing with the tools people use to work. That alone earns them utter and complete disrespect. They've done this in a way that leaves them conspicuously unable to reply - they deserve no leniency for this.


> Please tell me why anyone should bother being respectful of or lenient towards those who won't show the same decent behavior?

First of all, Mozilla isn't being rude, they're being foolish. But to answer that question in general, the goal is to fix things, not make them generally shit, so one side has to show decency at least. Furthermore, even if you believe they're as bad as you say, that does not give everyone carte blanche to be awful.


Because you owe better to this community than to be brutally dismissive of others. If you want to post in a rage, please do so elsewhere; on HN commenters need a minimum level of self-control, quite independently of how wrong anybody else is.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Shouldn't we consider it a giant, massive red flag that you need a corporation backing you to maintain one of the most critical pieces of web software?

That's how we ended up in this mess. You can't compete in the web browser battles unless you have hundreds of full time engineers behind you. That's a failure of the web.

None of this new decentralized technology is going to mean anything if we haven't learned that lesson. If you want free, open systems, competition needs to be easy. We need to be able to respond to a abusive platforms by making our own, and that means we need to live in an ecosystem where making our own platforms is easy enough that you can have 10-20 viable options simultaneously supported.

Linux distros are a fantastic example of this. It's easy enough to create a viable linux distro that there are 5+ popular ones, and if you don't like those there are 10+ less popular ones which are perfectly viable and reasonable choices for an OS.

We need to take the web back in that direction.


There are two internets now -- the internet of documents and the internet of applications. For reading documents, including somewhat dynamic documents like HN, all I need is w3m. But for the internet of applications you need a thin client: a javascript VM and layout engine. I regard anything that runs javascript as inherently malicious, out to violate my privacy and drain my battery. Of these, shenanigans notwithstanding, Firefox is still the least bad of the bad actors. Like most of the community, I'm disgusted but not surprised by this stupid stunt.


Actually it would be great - in the best interest of users - to make this distinction more pronounced. The "document web" should be a relatively safe space that you can comfortably browse with JS disabled. The "app web" is a different beast, and the trust of the user to turn on the JS engine should be earned. We could have "web browsers" and "app browsers", with the former being much more safe and less resource-consuming.


I really think there should be a .text TLD.

I don't know how you enforce it exactly, and maybe it's redundant with pastebin.

It still nags at me that sometimes I want to go to the web to just read a thing, measured in the tens of kilobytes, and all this other nonsense just gets in the way.

It's my kooky nostalgia probably. Old man yells at cloud. But other times, for fleeting moments, I think about applying for that TLD and feel just a bit like Ray Kinsella...


I really think there should be a .text TLD.

That would be great -- I'm imagining a whole TLD full of sites like http://text.npr.org and http://lite.cnn.io/en.


Doesn't have to be that minimalistic - I could see up-to-date CSS being a good member of a document-only web.


gopher://


I do find it interesting that within the last year, two new and viable gopher browsers have been created - one for Windows and one for Android.


There's .page that could work just as well. I'd be keen to see a movement like that too.


Good point. The commingling of the two is probably more the "failure" of the web than anything else.

There's no reason I should be required to go through the "app" web (Flash, JS, Silverlight) to get something off the "document" web.

... and most use cases don't require an "app" web.


The distinction isn't pronounced. Few sites are, distinctly, only "apps" or "documents." So how would one define an "app" in this case, in a way that wouldn't encompass most of the existing web as "apps?"


Anything that uses JavaScript?

Or allows only the minimal subset required to implement AJAX type functionality.

The argument for expanding web standards has always been "if we don't, then they'll just appify it and we won't have any say" (see DRM debate).

An explicit decoupling of information from interactivity would lessen the pressure for that.


"Anything that uses Javascript" would include, as I said, almost the entire web, including sites which primarily serve text and act as documents, including Hacker News. View the source - it even uses AJAX.


I've just replied to you with JS disabled. I also created this account with no JS (this was a year ago). Upvoting also works without JS.

In my experience, of all the websites that don't work without JS, only a minority actually need it. Most of the time it's silly things like articles and blog posts that just show a blank screen without JS, or drop-down menus that rely on JS even though there are perfectly fine non-JS ways to do it, etc.


"Anything that requires JavaScript" might be a better criteria. Hn gracefully falls back without JavaScript enabled because it's not necessary, just some added convenience.


Even then, sites which lack graceful degradation aren't so qualitatively different from the few that do that they need to be moved to an entirely different platform, viewed from a different device and considered "applications" and not "documents." That seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

What does make sense to me is a new platform based on WASM, with related tooling. Photoshop in the browser or something running the Unreal Engine or .Net is not the web enough to maybe deserve its own thing. But a new platform based on what are essentially complaints about complexity or efficiency would be too messy.


Yes.

Right now there's next to zero incentive not to use JavaScript. And only slightly more to engineer a working fallback page.

Bifurcating the web would provide one.


You're arguing for a technical solution to what is essentially a cultural problem.


I'd argue that the cultural problem (sites being VM-tech-heavy) is caused by a technology choice (never saying "this much technology is sufficient for a large part of the web").

Or to put it another way, extrapolated down this path README.txt files on the web in the future will only be accessible with a pair of VR goggles.


A document is static. It's neither necessary nor desirable that we access documents over the internet by contacting their owners. It's better for both privacy and resilience to handle documents over something like IPFS.

The web as we know it is much better suited to applications, where websites have behavior as well as content. Whether the rendering is server-side like HN or client-side like Facebook is irrelevant.


I'd argue that most sites are "documents" that have had "apps" unnecessarily shoehorned into them for cosmetic or financial reasons.


Seems kind of silly to ignore that javascript enables much more robust user interfaces. It can and is used poorly or maliciously, but it's used for far more than cosmetic or financial reasons.


What is "much more robust" even supposed to mean? It sounds like meaningless marketingspeak. The countless number of sites that break the back button, scrolling, general navigation, showering my eyes with distracting animations, or show some stupid popup when I select text make me lean towards the UI being much better without JS, and indeed I keep it off by default.

I once had a site beg me to enable JS "for a better user experience", one which didn't need it to work. I did, and promptly turned it off again when I realised what the "better" actually meant (see above). Not going to fall for that one again...


When I want to read an article in a newspaper, I don't need a "robust" user interface, I need the text and (sometimes) the pictures. Links to other relevant content are a bonus. This could be done with the very first web browser.

Yet for some reason (hint: money) newspaper websites load megabytes worth of scripts to display kilobytes of text.


There isn't really any practical reason for most sites to support users with JS disabled, as they're a pretty small minority. So there isn't really any good reason sites or users would actually care about or bother making the distinction.

Just make a separate "document web", with a standard that isn't utterly lovecraftian and has all the functionality that current ostensibly "document-only" sites (i.e news, forums, etc) rely on JS for. Then, disguise it inside some hip web framework where the client end just acts as a viewer, client-side rendering to boot (with a fallback for users with JS disabled). Make sure an independent implementation can access the underlying "document" through the endpoints the clientside rendering uses. Now you're able to essentially fool people into supporting it.

Also, you could choose to represent your document sites as a pile of data and non-Turing-complete "scripts" that do the presentation, with state that can only change upon user interaction. That may seem like a really backwards way of doing it, but if done right, it would give you a really good bang for the buck in terms of functionality/UX vs implementation complexity.


Agree with this, but the problem is user demand in competitive markets.

> I regard anything that runs javascript as inherently malicious, out to violate my privacy and drain my battery.

Tech people like those on HN may understand the centralizing corporate control that's embedded in the current structure of the internet.

Average users a) have zero technical understanding b) mainly use JS-heavy, DRM/surveillance-loaded "big tech" websites c) lack the skills, awareness, and desire to change anything for increased user freedom. There's more reward for positive features than lack of negatives.

Unless a compelling case can be made to the minimally-competent user who sees only speed, usability, and immediate real-world social use (I can watch DRM movies, play DRM music, use FB / YT / Google Apps / other "big tech"), any shift seems unlikely.

The problem is less technical than social. DRM / surveillance tech crapware is now a social norm, and there's rarely a good time to have a discussion. Most non-technical people just don't know or care.


I would in fact be happy if we could just have a simple VM and a low level rendering engine, let's say something like a WASM based VM (or even JS if we really have to), and WebGL or similar for rendering. Define a standard way to provide (or refuse) access to local and remote resources and leave all the rest (HTML, CSS, Web Workers, Audio Playback, Video Playback etc) as software running on the VM. This way you would not need a few GB of memory if you need only to display a wall of text and it would be easier both to share code between implementations and contribute software (as libraries ? plugins?) to the platform.


Because then every site would need to include a CSS + HTML rendering library to be executed in this VM - it would be like every site needing to include their JS framework of choice except much heavier.


No they wouldn't need to. They'd just have to advertise CSS + HTML, and the app browser would just use their internal CSS + HTML engine (possibly written in WASM for better sandboxing). There are probably a whole spectrum between those two extremes (all the code in the server, or all the code in the client).


I was thinking about something more like a "flash plugin": you may have to install once (or it might be bundled with the installer) and then "it just works". The main difference would be that it would be sandboxed and so limited on what it can do.


Thanks for this! For years I've been looking for a unixy command line browser that cuts through all the web related cruft. W3m fits the bill nicely.


>Of these, shenanigans notwithstanding, Firefox is still the least bad of the bad actors.

I would say Brave is better here. By default Brave blocks 3rd party cookies and ads. Brave has browser fingerprint blocking as well, but that is not enabled by default, presumably because that would break a lot of web applications and give the users a bad first impression of Brave.

Brave also comes with built in cryptocurrency micropayments as an optional way to sustain websites without advertisements.

The least bad actor in my view currently, is Brave.


Yep, don't wonder about the downvotes.


From my observations, a brief stint interacting with standards bodies, and a lot strong opinions about API designs and specs:

The problem starts with regulatory capture of standards and standards bodies. It is in the interests of large organizations to pack a standard with every bit of code they have created internally. It slows down the other members and it keeps small groups and independents out entirely.

You could in many cases have a standard that five people sharing an apartment could implement. Or you could have one that only half a dozen groups could, which is just enough competition to make it sportsmanlike.


Do you have any ideas on how a standards body or its procedures could be structured to fight against this tendency?


For the most part, they can't, because a new standards body will spin up. The history of WHATWG [1] is illuminating; WHATWG being the community -- of largely browser-makers -- behind HTML5 and other specs that moved the web forward from 2004 to now; notwithstanding how you feel about W3C or WHATWG, it's impossible to deny that once a standards-setting group no longer meets the goals of its members, those same members are likely to go start something else.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WHATWG#History


One problem with standards organizations is that they have a bunch of people whose job is to make new versions of the standard. Look at the evolution of openGL, the web, C++, Unicode (love hotel? Poop emoji?) and so on. Even ASCII evolved to 8bit and the got ansi escape codes, but it's stable now. C is fairly stable now but that's because all the new stuff is in C++ (much like HTML replaced ASCII).


We’re pretty bad about frog boiling. When we amend a spec we think about how much more we added, not how big it’s gotten.

It’s part of the disconnect between new and old employees. Everyone who has been there for three years learned the system one piece at a time. They don’t understand why the new people look at them like they’re crazy.


The emoji character set originated in Japan. When it was turned to Unicode, they weren't going to just remove characters because some of the world doesn't care for it.


What's wrong with the evolution of OpenGL? Everything from OpenGL 3 and on has simply been focused on fixing the API without completely breaking old code, or exposing new GPU features. All of that was necessary.


Emoji was clearly designed for a date when the Japanese phone and telcoms decided to set union all their icons as font glyphs. Why do you need both left and right magnifying glass, and so many variations of train?


Initially I was going to let the other responses stand on their own but I had a new thought.

Unfortunately it seems the spec by fiat process is the least problematic this way.

Someone standardizes a thing that has been working for them for a while and they want their partners and maybe competitors to work with it.

It has to be a fairly conservative spec as well, something that can be defined concisely.

And let me be clear: this is a necessary but insufficient quality of a good specification. Ramming an opinionated spec down everyone's throat that is clearly tilted to only be achievable with your company's patent portfolio is not playing nice, and people tend to sense the insincerity.


That's how we ended up in this mess. You can't compete in the web browser battles unless you have hundreds of full time engineers behind you. That's a failure of the web.

I continue to find it ironic that Mozilla (and to a lesser extent, Google) have been pretty much continuously complaining about Microsoft/IE "holding back the Web", with a lot of people in agreement, when MS/IE's lack of support for the latest standards (not authored by them, naturally) is what keeps the former from having too much power over the Web as a whole. Imagine the company with huge browser marketshare rejecting all proposals to add new and more complex things to the standard, or refusing to implement them.

If you want free, open systems, competition needs to be easy.

By MS/IE "holding back the Web", it's actually making it easier for alternative browsers to compete, and I think that's a good thing. Consider that the non-mainstream alternatives like NetSurf and Dillo are probably at a similar level of Web standards support as IE6/7.

Now that I think about it, I actually miss the Internet when the combination of XP and IE6 ruled --- certainly some sites tried to push the boundaries, but a lot of the rest remained "un-appified" and usable from other simple browsers too, with a bigger emphasis on content...


Except all Linux distros rely on the Linux kernel and repackage a vast number of GNU utilities which are maintained by... hundreds and hundreds of engineers.

If GNU/Linux were to die, so would all the distros, because it’s far too much work for any individual distro to maintain all that codebase. In much the same way, the intensive bit of maintenance work with Firefox is the rendering engine; there exist lots of “distros” (forks) of Firefox but they all rely on the same underlying codebase. It’s just not viable to have more than a small handful of rendering engines, much in the same way that there are only a very small handful of operating systems that can run on modern hardware.


> If GNU/Linux were to die

But there is no such entity as GNU/Linux. It's hundreds and hundreds of independently working engineers who would all have to be hit by buses at the same time.


10 companies are responsible for 57% of the changes to Linux. This is better than the typical 1 company responsible for the majority of changes in a browser, but it's not remotely close to "hundreds and hundreds of independently working engineers". Volunteers only make up ~8% of the changes.

What we don't have is any browser that's a multi-company project, though. WebKit used to almost be that, but then the blink fork happened. The closest currently would I suppose be Chromium as it's also backed by Opera.


I think we're in agreement that Linux is in a better state than the browser. To nit-pick at your argument, Linux development is driven by people who are interested in working on it; many of those are lucky enough to have employers who encourage them to use a company email address to submit changes, and part of their working hours. Nothing indicates they wouldn't still be contributing without the @intel.com attached to their name.

Furthermore in the study you are referencing, the "8% volunteers" is larger than any company's contribution besides Intel and RedHat - even more if you add in the individual "consultants".

https://www.linuxfoundation.org/blog/the-top-10-developers-a...


This is such a lovely idea on paper, but how do you put that into practice? Is the problem the monolithic design of a web browser, which now is basically an operating system all its own? Is the solution to break that into its component parts, so that each part can be maintained by a smaller group, and composed together to produce the browser as a whole?


The problem is the complexity of all the specifications that make up the Web. These specifications are heavily influenced by whatever major browsers already are doing (i.e. influenced by a handful of huge tech companies). These companies have a vested interest in making it hard to make a new, competitive browser.

I think the Web is unredeemable at this point; there is so much entrenched complexity, ugly hacks, centralization, and misuse of various technologies that it can never be undone. The only solution is to refuse to contribute to the Web at all, which is hardly an option for most of us here.


I think we could build a simple standard that does the useful parts of layout / CSS and includes a sane scripting language in a reasonable timeframe. It would need to be accessible both for users and developers.

The hard part would be enforcing behavior so you don't end up with venders adding their own bits which destroy the entire point of the thing.


I think the Web is unredeemable at this point; there is so much entrenched complexity, ugly hacks, centralization, and misuse of various technologies that it can never be undone.

Somewhere, an AMP developer coughs indignantly


The solution is to fork, or start over.

I like the latter idea.


Are there any ongoing efforts in that regard? I guess IPFS, but even then, you're serving html.


its slow going, but that's what i'm trying to do with heropunch[0]. our goal is to create a p2p application platform using a handful of libre technologies: secure scuttlebutt, ipfs, lxc, enlightenment foundation libraries, rust, and elixir.

[1]: https://www.heropunch.io


Great. I support this.

Go build your new web and leave those of us who believe the existing web, despite its faults, has value, be.


Well, I certainly don't want to do it alone, if I want to do it in the first place.

It sounds an awful lot like you are complaining, but about what, I am not sure.

I don't see how I am not letting you be, either. Creating a new system does not involve you at all, until you find a personal interest in that system, or its development.


just about anything people invest time into is going to have some sort of value, 'despite faults'.

that doesn't really speak to the value of progress, reflecting on the status quo, or creating something fresh with lessons learned from the past.

i don't really get the 'leave you be' bit.


>i don't really get the 'leave you be' bit.

Simple. More than a few people here seem to believe, as the grandparent comment suggests, that the web is a lost cause, or irredeemable, and all those people seem to want to do is to constantly complain about it.

I'm simply suggesting that if people feel the web has nothing to offer them, that it would be more productive for them to kindly leave it for a network that better suits their needs. Otherwise, rather than wanting to "fork the web and start over" they could consider working to improve what we have.


> all those people seem to want to do is to constantly complain about it.

Why are you taking those complaints so personally?

You don't need us to be content with the status quo. If all we are doing is complaining, we really aren't doing anything to you.


viewing the web as a lost cause or irredeemable is not the same as saying it has nothing to offer. 'leaving the web' also doesn't seem very pragmatic, at least until something better is available.


>viewing the web as a lost cause or irredeemable is not the same as saying it has nothing to offer

I disagree - if it has something to offer then it's not a lost cause. A lost cause by definition isn't worth saving, or even engaging with.

> 'leaving the web' also doesn't seem very pragmatic, at least until something better is available.

The comment I replied to earlier suggested that the only reasonable solution to the web was to fork it or start over, with starting over being preferable. I'm merely suggesting that someone should actually get started on that.

Or maybe revive Gopher. I hear that's still around.


people can get started on that, and probably are. but the web exists, and the web is pervasive. it doesn't make any sense to abandon it until a replacement arrives... just as it makes no sense to simply abandon gas engines (and what, walk?) before electric ones are ready to replace them.

the real question is whether the New Thing can avoid the problems of it's predecessor.


Design and create the equivalent of a web browser in a modular fashion.

Yes, that is a lofty goal. That does not make it unreasonable.

> Is the solution to break that into its component parts, so that each part can be maintained by a smaller group, and composed together to produce the browser as a whole?

Possibly, but currently, a "web" browser depends on its monolithic qualities. A web page is a DOM, defined by HTML, styled by CSS, and manipulated by JavaScript.

I think it may be time to start designing something less inherently monolithic.

One advantage to modularity is that we don't need to finish before we can use it.


That's very nontrivial task, if feasible at all, considering current overcomplicated state of affairs in CSS, HTML, JS, graphical, font-rendering and networking fields of browser's interest.

> Guys, there is a _reason_ why microkernels suck. This is an example of how things are _not_ "independent". The filesystems depend on the VM, and the VM depends on the filesystem. You can't just split them up as if they were two separate things (or rather: you _can_ split them up, but they still very much need to know about each other in very intimate ways).

http://yarchive.net/comp/linux/user_space_filesystems.html


> That's very nontrivial task

I imagine so.

And?


we are slowly working towards this goal[0], we try to team up with other projects and develop this stuff cooperatively. our focus is on the user and developer experience side of things. creating good comfy tools for developers and fighting for very high quality UX on the user side.

[0]: https://heropunch.io


James Mickens gave a great talk about how we could build a better browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uflg7LDmzI


You're right, this is great. Is the Atlantis source code available?


I've looked for it previously and not found anything. I'm hoping that MS are working on it in secret, but seems unlikely.


Amazing talk, thanks!


I think this idea has some merit to it, but I don't have any experience in building that kind of software.

This is essentially how teams that build huge software systems work. Like for instance, operating systems like windows/linux. The various teams at Microsoft, or trusted comitters for Linux, organize their various modules, components, subsystems, etc. independently, and eventually compose them into a coherent functioning whole to ship the whole system.


The biggest difficulty is tying components together.

There are a few methods:

1. Libraries linked by binaries.

This is the usual method, but it generally demands modules share some things, which usually couples them too tightly to their implementation.

2. IPC (Inter-Process Communication)

There are a few ways to accomplish this. Some are OS specific (named pipes), others are fairly generic (sockets). This requires modules to share a language, and has some overhead, but at least they aren't coupled.

3. Microkernel

Essentially the best points of 1 and 2, but generally a design challenge itself.

The biggest advantage to modular design is that you don't need to create all the modules before you get something useful.


Linux distros are a terrible example.

Not only do they all rely on Torvalds and everyone else for the kernel (heavily funded by donations, companies, etc), but most Linux distributions are just cosmetic variations of the largest upstream distros.

If Debian died tomorrow, Ubuntu is on life support.


> most Linux distributions are just cosmetic variations of the largest upstream distros.

Plenty are not. I am impressed by how usable community-based (non-corporate) distros are (e.g. Gentoo, Arch). This is truly indigenous technology.

> they all rely on Torvalds and everyone else for the kernel (heavily funded by donations, companies, etc)

This is an interesting thought. I believe the Linux kernel would continue to be viable on a purely volunteer basis, without corporate subsidies; I can't prove it though.


I suspect you're right, but it would certainly be a tectonic event, and could potentially affect Linux's competitiveness until equilibrium recovered.

And you're right about "most" being wrong. "Many" would have been a better word, particularly if talking about the most popular.

(Another non-upstream-reliant distro that I find fascinating is GoboLinux. Very against the grain/orthodoxy!)


Without corporate subsidies, corporate subsidies would soon reappear. If it's useful enough, corporations will pay to continue having it.


Kernels aren't any more important than compilers, xorg, user space utilities and so on. That Linux managed to get its name on the whole stack doesn't mean much. You might as well be complaining that linux distributions are vulnerable to power outages.

If anything the major distributions are defined by their package managers, of which there is a large and healthy number - aptitude, dnf, pacman, protage, and a heap of weird and wonderful other ones with minuscule usage.


> you need a corporation backing you to maintain one of the most critical pieces of web software

My understanding is that Mozilla is supposed to be a nonprofit first and foremost: the Mozilla Foundation. The for-profit Mozilla Corporation is a subsidiary which is owned by the Foundation. I don't know whether this is still reflected in practice nowadays, but this is how it's supposed to be structured...


> Linux distros are a fantastic example of this. It's easy enough to create a viable linux distro that there are 5+ popular ones, and if you don't like those there are 10+ less popular ones which are perfectly viable and reasonable choices for an OS.

But isn't this the same as all the Chromium/Firefox forks? I mean I understand they aren't as popular as the major players but you could say the same about all the Linux distributions compared to Windows or OS X.


This isn't just a problem with Web standards. Think of how few complete implementations of C, C++, Python, Java there are.

So yeah the web is complex but so are most popular runtimes.


The difference is that the web was originally designed to show documents, not build applications. The failings of the web are entirely a result of turning the browser into a VM for Javascript applivations.


I like the idea of having the web just being a static document format with hyperlinks and embeddable objects. No DOM just a tag for some narrowly defined supported formats (eg. .form, .game, .social, .store)


Think of how few complete implementations of C, C++, Python, Java there are.

C++ is at least an order of magnitude more complex, but there have been plenty of C implementations, some even entirely the work of a single person[1]. "I wrote my own C (subset) compiler" seems to be a reasonably common thing on HN too.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

On the other hand, I haven't see very many "truly independent" webpage rendering engine implementations (e.g. HTML4 or HTML5-subset, CSS2.x), so if anyone wants to give it a go (or Go, if you like...), they are more than welcome to, if only to increase the diversity of available implementations --- something that could probably handle HTML4/CSS2 might not be all that difficult, and especially so if you don't care for 100% identical results to the mainstream browsers (which often differ slightly too.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiny_C_Compiler

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13914137

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15463738

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13778353

[5] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8558822

[6] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11903674

[7] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9125912


> something that could probably handle HTML4/CSS2 might not be all that difficult

As someone who did a lot of the work to implement a from-scratch HTML4/CSS2 engine, I struggle to come up with words that would adequately express to you just how much you are underestimating the difficulty of this.


Size is not a requirement of a programming language: look at Lisp, Smalltalk, Lua, etc to see simple systems that can be fully comprehended and are quite powerful.

If anything, the monstrosities produced by committees are less powerful and less beautiful. (That we put up with them says more about us.)


Have you seen the Common Lisp specification?


>Have you seen the Common Lisp specification?

Yes, it is huge and gigantic, but worth it's weight in gold. The stuff "just works" and has almost no limits. I'd say that spec is a masterpiece.


Common Lisp is big because it's a bridge between MacLisp and InterLisp communities of the 80s. There are much smaller (and just as powerful) Lisps like Scheme or ISLISP.


Scheme is poorly expressive for daily programming and it's because of its small size. The documentation quantity for a useful Scheme like Racket is much larger.

Also, do we count all the pages expended on SRFI's? Or not?


I think we should stop writing code, and start thinking about the future, and write draft specs for an open web, and build a platform to discuss those specs.

Mozilla is great because they have good management, not just because they have great coders. The rest of us should take an example if this. This means that we should stop scratching our itches, and do some real thinking and have discussions before engaging in our next side project.


> "start thinking about the future, and write draft specs for an open web..."

There has been tons of attempts at this. Maybe we should start examining why these attempts have failed to succeed.


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Fuller


One possible reason is that a truly open web would include things advocates for an open web don't want, such as advertising and commercial interests, or javascript.


Excellent point. I fear many attempts at the open web failed because they were a little too anti-capitalist or FOSS-purist and ignored basic economic realities.


> they have good management

In light of recent events, this would seem to be up for debate.


The comparison with linux distros isn't quite fair, as they are not full reimplementations of the same standard. They are are better compared with chromium based browsers, which are easy to create and of which there are many.

What do you suggest to do to make competition easy? We could throw out most of features, but then the resulting standard won't be useful, and almost no one will use it.


> Linux distros are a fantastic example of this.

I'm still looking for a Linux distro that runs on my phone without hassles.


This is because hardware manufacturers don't upstream drivers.


Or, for that matter, one that I can use for gaming.


What are you talking about? I've been gaming exclusively on Linux distros (Ubuntu, Fedora, SteamOS and Solus) for the last few years and it's been great. Site/community gamingonlinux.com is a testament to Linux gaming being a viable platform.


The sad truth is that some great titles only run on Windows.


If no one writes game for any given platform, is it the platform's fault? Network effect don't explain everything, but they do explain a lot.


There is more than 3000 games on Linux on Steam right now. A lot of it is indie, but still thats a lot of games.


i have used at least 4 different distros for gaming so I have no idea what your comment is supposed to be about.


Seems like we should expect that in a competitive market, production values will keep rising until it's no longer easy to compete? So the mystery isn't why browsers are so competitive, it's why other niches don't attract strong competitors.


"Shouldn't we consider it a giant, massive red flag that you need a corporation backing you to maintain one of the most critical pieces of web software?"

Yes.

Interestingly Mozilla Foundation is not asking for donations.

Mozilla Corporation is selling traffic to ad-supported search engines, and profiting handsomely.

Instead they are asking for user cooperation in their experiments.

Why not create a different breed of browser that does not expose users to advertising. Profit motive?

Let users support it with donations.

This should be the mission.


It might interest you that most Linux development is, in fact, done by corporations, and not by broke-ass developers funded by donations.


>Shouldn't we consider it a giant, massive red flag that you need a corporation backing you to maintain one of the most critical pieces of web software?

That's the price of doing business, isn't it? It's why communism doesn't pan out as well as capitalism. What's that a red flag against? The human animal?

I agree--let's replace 'em with super AI instead or something, but, in the interim...

>we need to live in an ecosystem where making our own platforms is easy enough that you can have 10-20 viable options simultaneously supported. Linux distros are a fantastic example of this.

They are not. Pale Moon is about as "viable" against Firefox or Chrome as Ubuntu or Mint are "viable" against Windows or MacOS for the average user. (And one of those [the better, much more popular one] has a corporation backing it!)


> Pale Moon is about as "viable" against Firefox or Chrome as Ubuntu or Mint are "viable" against Windows or MacOS for the average user. (And one of those [the better, much more popular one] has a corporation backing it!)

Funny, I appreciate the Pale Moon community (I'm "officially" part of it since I use the browser) more than I appreciate or support anything to do with Mozilla for years now. I don't see it being non-viable, because there are plenty of people who are actively involved in providing a better browser with specific goals. And, there are plenty more people on top of that who act as concerned watchdogs to make sure the browser doesn't lose sight of those goals. That's what Mozilla lost. When the powerusers turned into an echo chamber, Mozilla lost the way. When the community openly approved of the offloading of plugins (the start of multi-process nonsense), the new interface, the move to WebExtensions... this is the fault of the people who kept saying, 'yes keep changing stop being Mozilla stop being Firefox be Chrome-2'.


Watching the whole thing unfold has been heartbreaking. Most mozillians do not support this. This Twitter thread is one insight into it: https://twitter.com/steveklabnik/status/941709048529014784

Firefox 57 gained a ton of good will from a lot of users, and they pull this crap right after. They absolutely should know better. They should have known better with Pocket; they should have learned from Pocket.

"Fork it" is not an acceptable answer. The problem is not with Firefox, it's with Mozilla. Mozilla is a good company at heart and they're an important pillar of the web. Losing them to stupid stuff like this sucks, we should fight for them. There's tons of Firefox forks, none of them get the point though, you might as well use Chromium. If Firefox disappears and the fork remains, the fork dies because maintaining a web browser is work that needs a corporation's backing behind it (or a government's).

Mozilla's role goes beyond the web browser as well. Its mission was to "keep the web open", "keep the web free". This goal was reflected in projects such as Firefox OS, Hello and Persona (and to some extent, Thunderbird)... but atrocious management made those projects a waste of time and money.

It's not Firefox you need to fork, it's Mozilla.


It's surprising that people are surprised by these things. Mozilla is not on a slippery slope. That was true years ago, but it proceeded unmitigated. By now, though, these things are the natural result of that decay.

There's a lot of power in branding, apparently. People keep saying things like, "Mozilla is a good company at heart", and I'm at a loss. Mozilla 2017 is nothing like the Mozilla that existed when the Foundation was established, or when the Mozilla Manifesto was adopted. Tons of key people left in a few different waves: first when Google pulled them off the project to go build Chrome, and then lots more who trickled out over the years during and after the Kovacs/FirefoxOS era. What remains is (a derivative of) the codebase + the name "Mozilla" + and, like, Mitchell. But that's it. Keep calling it the same thing, though, and somehow folks act like we're talking about the same thing.

Mozilla imploded—or rather, got Netscapified—years ago. To believe that Mozilla or Firefox is your old friend who's still helping you fight the good fight is incredibly naive and can only come from someone who hasn't actually been paying attention and is easily fooled by (trivially contradicted) surface-level details (like a name). I mean, it's not even like some philosophically tricky ship-of-Theseus problem. Mozilla is dead, people, and this isn't news.


Sorry but where's your evidence?

Mozilla is still today doing incredible work. The work on Quantum was extremely forward-thinking in a way that most corporations cannot support; it brought us Rust, which is a fantastic contribution to the ecosystem.

Furthermore, Mozilla has always had troubles with judgement and mismanagement, this is not new. The problems that have been surfacing are old problems, they're just getting more severe.


If the yardstick for Mozilla's mission is how fast they can make a browser, why do we need Mozilla? There are arguably better equipped entities doing that.

Their whole mission is to have better judgement and management, advocating for the user instead of a corporation (or foundation). So it sounds like you're in agreement with the GP that Mozilla's decay is not news.


> If the yardstick for Mozilla's mission is how fast they can make a browser, why do we need Mozilla? There are arguably better equipped entities doing that.

Are there? I see no evidence to support that assertion and a lot of evidence against it.

Market share matters. The last vote at the W3C about DRM video being the most recent example.

I mean, I probably qualify as reasonably savvy, and I have used exactly 4 browsers in the last 10 years: Firefox, Chrome, IE/Edge, and Safari.


> I mean, I probably qualify as reasonably savvy, and I have used exactly 4 browsers in the last 10 years: Firefox, Chrome, IE/Edge, and Safari.

I probably don't count as savvy, but my browser experience over the last 10 years has been a somewhat broader list. Having started with Firefox at V2, I switched (around '06) to my primary browser being Opera, with SeaMonkey as a secondary - especially when I want IRC; Firefox, K-Meleon, and Links are all in the background ready to go. I also used QtWeb for a brief period.

When Opera switched to being a Chrome clone, I jumped ship. SeaMonkey didn't provide the ease-of-use I wanted for an everyday browser, so I went back to Firefox. I'm now more often on Pale Moon.


>>The last vote at the W3C about DRM video being the most recent example.

Which Mozilla enthusiastically and Fully supported Google, MS, and Netflix in support of DRM.

Their fake unwillingness from 2014 was about as transparent as netflix's where by netflix claims it is "all the MPAA/Studios" why at the same time closing down all Open Access API's, and Locking down all their own wholey owned content behind DRM

This is not the first time user privacy has been invaded on Firefox or by Mozilla and it will not be the last

The fact that these Data Reporting features, and allowing FF to run "studies" on you is a OPT-OUT setting not a OPT-IN setting is all the proof I need that the Mozilla of old is long dead.. A Privacy respecting company would make such things OPT-IN, not OPT-OUT..

That is with out even getting into the whole Orwellian Ministry of Truth they are creating, or about 100 other things


Evidence? How about the article link we're all commenting on? How is that not enough for you?


Uh, looking glass was not supported or worked on by the vast majority of the fantastic engineers at mozilla. This was a marketing stunt probably thrown together by a single intern, and greenlighted by an out-of-touch marketing department.

The engineers at mozilla are NOT the problem.


>"This was a marketing stunt probably thrown together by a single intern, and greenlighted by an out-of-touch marketing department."

Doesn't the fact that that's even allowed to happen point to a larger problem?


Ah, a privacy oriented browser where a single intern with an out-of-touch marketing department can push crap to millions of users.


Sorry, I don't care much about engineers. I care about people in charge. People high in decision making process. If intern and marketing department are able to do this it's really bad. No number of good engineers can change that.


> There's a lot of power in branding, apparently. People keep saying things like, "Mozilla is a good company at heart", and I'm at a loss. Mozilla 2017 is nothing like the Mozilla that existed when the Foundation was established, or when the Mozilla Manifesto was adopted.

I don't know, Rust and Servo seem to show that there's still the hacker spirit that was there at the beginning, it's just they accumulated a lot of 'business types' if you will over the years and they need to put that engineering face back at the top, instead of being too focused at running a multi-million dollar enterprise.


What good are Rust and Servo if they just use them to force unwanted extensions on me?

I hope you're not pretending that Servo is somehow the fastest way to browse the web...


Servo? No. Firefox 57+, which is based on it? Yes. But that's completely besides the point here, because yeah, serving unwanted extensions - which aren't even remotely useful - is ... stupid. I allow experiments so Mozilla can test new things which will benefit others later. But I don't see any world where the Mr. Robot extension will benefit anyone.


Have you tried Chrome?

Firefox 57+ is absolutely not the fastest way to browse the web. I'm sorry, I tried.


Yes. It's my second browser (and was my main browser until I switched to FF Nightly in the summer). And no, it isn't faster - at least not for me. And it hogs memory as if there's no other software running on my PC. I'm really happy that I can use FF again instead.


  it hogs my memory if there's no other software running
What exactly is wrong with that? Do you understand how RAM works on a computer?

Maybe your system is different, but for me, FF 57+ uses much more CPU than Chrome, and unlike RAM, that's a statistic that actually affects something in a meaningful way (increased power consumption).

If you're worried about Chrome using RAM when nothing else is, you might be fetishizing the concept of free RAM.


I wrote as if, not if - i.e. I run other programs that could use the RAM if Chrome wouldn't take it.


I think ultimately it's very dependant on which sites you frequent. Like with many things, it's absolutely a case where the only good answer is YMMV.


As far as I can tell, any website that uses a less than negligible amount of JS runs better on Chrome, and that's about 80% of the sites I visit.


FF nightly and now stable have been my default browser for almost a year, and I have to agree with you. FF in all variants (as of today) regularly consumes more RAM than Chrome for my day-to-day usage. FF crashes on me several times per week. Netflix, YouTube, and it seems most React sites consistently seem to just chug in FF, but do fine in Chrome. I'm not sure what's happening here, but the hype about FF's new performance gains has not been fulfilled in my experience.

I've stuck with FF because I'm a web developer-- sadly, the money led me there from other more interesting lines of dev work-- and I don't want to see a single browser dominate the web the way IE used to.


As far as Nightly goes, I'd always imagine a debug/testing build would use more RAM by a fair margin.

elsewise, I'd say, try creating a new FF profile, unfortunately afaik older profiles can still jank up the browser a bit


Chrome keeps asking me to log in to Google.


The ship exists but whether it remains the same ship is a matter of opinion; and yet Theseus sails onward.

I see Mozilla as suffering from a crisis of identity, internally; it's acting as though it is staffed by believers in the manifesto but is now steered by those enamoured with The Bay Area and its ways.

Rust, Firefox 57, and even FirefoxOS are/were noble efforts to succeed in delivering on the manifesto. Pocket and this latest advert update smack of an executive that is thirsty to exploit the Mozilla brand for profit.


The problem is that Theseus jumped the boat too.


Wait, just because the old guard is gone, implies that the people there no longer care at all about the original mission? I get where you're coming from, but throwing up ones hands and saying Mozilla is already fucked is not helpful—Mozilla is our best chance at maintaining an open web. If we just roll over and let Google have the web because things aren't perfect then we are well and truly fucked because there's really no question of the agenda there. No, we should be holding their feet to the fire, not giving up in impotent cynicism.


> There's a lot of power in branding, apparently.

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy applies to do-good missions just as easily as it does to the worst of avaricious corporations or bloated gov't depts.


"Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization." [0]

[0] https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html


More generic form of this would be to state that in any system, those who are willing to go furthest in protecting their position will usually have the upper hand.

E.g. the company owner remains a company owner only as long as they are willing to go sufficient far to keep the company profitable; those who don't go bankrupt and lose their position.

The bureaucrat is not special in that respect - they are "just" the natural foot soldier of those who want to maintain an organisation for the sake of the organisation.

As such the backbone of any long-lasting organisation will be made up of those who are good at both maintaining their position in an organisation, and in protecting the organisation against inside and outside "threats".

Unfortunately such threats can include those who want to focus resources on the original goal of the organisation, at the risk of diminishing the role of the organisation.

Since Pournelle mentions the Soviets: to me this is one of the most dangerous parts of Leninist party theory: it involves rules meant to strengthen a party organisation against the threat of outside force, but it also made the Bolshevik party ideally suited for party bureaucrats and power mongers, whose prime goal quickly became the perpetuation of the party and the privileges of power.

A lesson should be to make any organization as weak as it can possibly be while retaining its ability to function. Unfortunately to function that needs an even playing field, or "as weak as it can possibly be" in the face of competing with multinational corporations quickly means something much bigger than we might hope.


all things equal, one dedicated to get power in an organization will get power over those that are dedicated to produce for the organization

this works for company, bureaucracies and everything else in life and is part of the entropy an organization accrues with time.

giving bureaucrats a weaker initial position will only extend the time before takeover.


I usually refer to Stross's summary- "The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective."

see: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9106983


There is a natural tension between the desire to do good and the need to make money.

If you can't be financially self-sustaining, then no level of desire to do good in the world will result in the long term ability to continue doing good.

It is like the phrase, Justice without power is inefficient and power without justice is tyranny. You need both profit and philosophy to do good.


Exactly. I'm totally fed up with this "Mozilla is a good company at heart" contrary to every evidence (letting FF slip b/c of all the side projects, Pocket, now this).


Indeed. The first indication was perhaps when they freaked out and decided to chase Google on version numbers.

After that they got into all kinds of "social signaling" shenanigans, and the rest is history.


I miss Brendan Eich.


Certainly as CTO. If he had stayed on after suddenly having been declared CEO without so much as a review process, our opinions would probably be very different by now.


So, this is my fault, for leaving in 2014?


I strong disagree that Mozilla is a good company at heart.

They are horribly mismanaged on every level.

They have burned hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a second rate browser that has seen its market share collapse.

They took hundreds of millions from Google and in exchange unquestioningly supported Google's advertising and surveillance agenda.

They have consistently failed to introduce new features that would actually benefit new users.

They blame the "standards process" for their lack of innovation and features that benefit users when they know that the standards process is a b.s. game. For profit corporations break standards whenever it benefits them. Firefox is the only browser that follows standards written by Google, Microsoft, and Apple, while the other 3 break them, or force through their own changes whenever it benefits them.

Apple blocked 3rd party cookies and Microsoft defaulted to Do Not Track while Firefox kept doing Google's bidding to collect their checks. Just one example of many.

In the place of real innovation, being truly independent, and actually standing up for users Mozilla gives people dumb crusades like Net Neutrality.

Firefox could have used their market share to develop truly innovative features, like what Opera tried. For that matter they could have partnered with Opera to create standards for a true open web, but of course they never did that because the Google bucks were just to sweet for them.

Mozilla has been a failed organization for a long time. This is only the latest reminder.


The trouble is, it costs money (or a lot of time from talented people) to support a project the size of a browser. I would imagine getting some funding helps keep things afloat.

You even say, "maintaining a web browser is work that needs a corporation's backing behind it (or a government's)".

I suppose we should expect the goodwill of corporate sponsorship, but this relationship can quickly turn into the "sponsor" asking for things in exchange for donations.

This situation exposes a weakness and requires the recognition of the fragility of the open source model (at least for larger-scale projects). We've seen weird corporate-backed things in NPM projects before. It happens, but what is the better alternative? How do we prevent it? Most corporations only support open source projects out of self-interest: that is, they have a stake in seeing a particular project succeed because their stack may depend on the software.


There are plenty of open source companies. The company I founded is built on open source principles many of them inspired by Mozilla. It's a bigger challenge, because it restricts your freedoms as a company in favour of the user's freedoms. However Mozilla's mistakes are not due to the open source nature of the company at all, they are due to mismanagement.

They are due to poor understanding of your own userbase. Poor communication with users and employees. Complete lack of judgement.

These are sticks Mozilla puts in its own wheels. It's hard to make money, but it's easy to know what not to do. Simply asking your employees: "Is this a good idea?" would have yielded a clear "Fuck no". That they did not do that (or did, but chose to ignore it) is a terrible sign, open source or not.


https://twitter.com/dherman76/status/433320156496789504 exemplifies the poor misunderstanding of the userbase:

> Excited to share the launch of @mozilla @firefox Tiles program, the first of our user-enhancing programs

To call advertisements "user-enhancing" is an affront and betrays values like privacy that Mozilla claims to espouse


betrays values like privacy

I do not (now -- at the time that person made that tweet, I did, but not on the browser) work at Mozilla.

However. The "tiles" concept was literally an experiment in whether it's possible to construct an ad system that does respect privacy.

The basic idea was:

* Advertisers submit their ads to Mozilla. Mozilla wraps them up into "bundles", made up of a bunch of different ads along with metadata to use in determining which to show.

* The browser downloads the "bundles" from Mozilla, and caches them locally.

* The browser, based on local data only it has access to, and the metadata in the bundles, decides which ads to show.

In other words, unlike a Google-style model where the ads are stored remote, loaded on demand, and the decision of what to show is made on the server side, this stored all ad content locally and the decision of what to show was also made entirely locally. So neither the advertiser nor the distributor could know whether a particular person saw an ad or (if they happened to) why the decision was made to show them that ad rather than a different one.

You may not like that, and you're free not to like it. But to argue that it "betrays" privacy is simply factually false. And Mozilla's mission is, in large part, to find ways to advance and sustain the web in ways that respect the users. Trying to develop a privacy-respecting way to deliver ads -- since so much of the web is dependent on ads -- is entirely within that mission.


Time to do away with whoever led the charge on this one.


>Simply asking your employees: "Is this a good idea?" would have yielded a clear "Fuck no". That they did not do that (or did, but chose to ignore it) is a terrible sign, open source or not.

Running a company by polling random employees is not an established successful management style. Its only you who is suggesting it, and then claiming that because they didn't do it, its a bad sign.


You inserted the word "random" into the OP's statement in order to support your position. Your employees will ALWAYS have a better understanding of the state of affairs of projects they are developing, simply because they are the ones developing them. You cannot fully understand the complexities without doing the work yourself. Not factoring opinions about a product from the employees who are making it is incredibly irresponsible, and makes those employees much more likely to find an employer who will value them as subject matter experts.


>Not factoring opinions about a product from the employees who are making it is incredibly irresponsible, and makes those employees much more likely to find an employer who will value them as subject matter experts.

A developer is not a subject matter expert on how to market a product. Maybe you can restate your opinion.


Counter to your statement, "A developer is not a subject matter expert on how to market a product":

Most development experience I have had (open source, exclusively) comes with continual interaction with, and and feedback from, a subset of users who use the software. This subset is populated mostly by power users, those who rely on the software for work, and those who use it regularly. They are the ones who understand which needs the software is meeting and which it is failing to meet, and who ask for intelligent and sensible features to be added.

The marketing departments don't have this built in compass. They create ideas that they think will be profitable to the company, and they simply don't have the necessary connection with the users and with the software to know which of these ideas will be perceived as awful by the user.

The ones creating the software are the subject matter experts on what that software should do, how it should behave, and what the users will find most useful, in this instance.

The marketers are subject matter experts on... Other stuff? Advertisements and buzzwords and increasing revenues by targeting certain demographics of peoples? I have experience with the marketing side of business that has perhaps reflected poorly on that profession, so I'd love to hear from anyone that can fill my knowledge gap.


> Running a company by polling random employees is not an established successful management style. Its only you who is suggesting it,

He's suggesting that the most simple, stupid check one could think of (polling random employees) would already have shown this to be a terrible idea. They didn't even go that far. That is indeed a bad sign.


>would already have shown this to be a terrible idea.

What are you basing this on?

I'm just a FF user, and I don't think it was a terrible idea, even though I personally wouldn't have gone that route.


Plenty of companies conduct internal beta's. Plenty of companies conduct internal usability studies for new features or anything in their product they have the slightest worry could backfire. I mean they could have included this in the developer unpublished version for some time and just asked for general feedback before releasing it. These concepts are far from unheard of.


>These concepts are far from unheard of.

Sure, and not doing any of that isn't a "terrible sign" as the OP claimed. Which is the point I'm countering.


Joel Test step 12 is more or less "grab random people in your hallway and see if they approve of what you're working on".

https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/08/09/the-joel-test-12-s...


>Joel Test step 12 is more or less

That's brilliant!

"grab random people in your hallway and see if they approve of the new developer you hired" - HR

"grab random people in your hallway and see if they approve of the fan choice for the new cafeteria's HVAC system " - Building Management

"grab random people in your hallway and see if they approve of the calculations in the spreadsheets that the company CFO produced". - Finance department.

Hey, I think you're on to something here. We could eliminate entire departments here ! :)


Hmm, when you remove the expensive "we should hire a management consultant to tell us to ask employees about the new dev" it almost seems laughable, like people wouldn't trust or want a kind of 'democracy' and would prefer and respect 'dictates handed down from above'.

Maybe it needs to cost $100k for someone in a suit to say "ask your employees, make use of their knowledge" before it sounds respectable?


its not polling for running the company, its a disaster check. If most of your employees hate the idea, it should be a sign of something wrong because I would expect Mozillians to be also users of Firefox.


Most open-source software companies that are profitable rely on a consulting model. They develop and open-source the software, then work with clients to implement, customize and support it for them.

This clearly wouldn’t work for a consumer product like a web browser.


Thank you for this reply -- it illustrates why the model that works for other companies doesn't apply here.


> The trouble is, it costs money [..] I would imagine getting some funding helps keep things afloat.

Mozilla has accrued a lot of money over the years. So much money that they could have funded--just on interest--a comfortable loft somewhere filled with hackers on a decent salary who are fanatical about the open web, and maybe a single guy with a tie to "call google", in perpetuity.

That should have been the base case for Mozilla: open web, modern browser, users first.

Unfortunately, brass doesn't vote itself out for the greater good. A modern browser is a delivery platform. The "open web" is a marketing tool. And users are not as important as advertisers.

The rationale is that without clout, they'll be unable to prevent worse things from happening, so they have to allow for these compromises on the open web to maintain that clout, and every setback is relegated to "not our hill to die on," with every next hill becoming "not our hill."

It seems like an unavoidable tragedy, but if we look at similar organisations, can we imagine the FSF or the EFF making compromises on their respective missions, even if they lose popularity or even run out of funding?

I feel they would rather cease to exist than allow for corruption of their stated mission.


I noticed a similar thing with Wikipedia and the ACLU. Too much money seems to in some ways be a curse. Organizations seem unable to Instead of just put a bunch of money away for a rainy day and then stop fundraising for a while when there's enough money to carry out the core mission. Instead they find more and more missions to expand into in order to spend whatever level of money is coming in.

The problem with this is that the people working on this peripheral expansion missions don't think of themselves as peripheral. When there's a money crunch or a values conflict they will fight hard for theirs even at the expense of what the organization was always supposed to be about.


What is the Aclu doing that isn't part of its mission?


Everyone keeps coming with the money problem. But... how about they maintain a browser, with browser functions only? No PDF-JS, no Pocket, no Hello, etc. Just core browser functions and features.

Yes, it might mean scaling back, which is one of the swear words in a growth-oriented belief, but that way, the money should be enough - it was enough for a decade, what changed?


With all due respect, rendering PDFs is something I consider core browser functionality.

Pocket, most certainly not, though it's nice I suppose. Hello was... I don't know what it was. Checking if the market is there at all? Not something I expected to be in a browser.


I never understood why anyone wanted their browser to render pdfs. PDF.js is slow, buggy, and can’t edit documents. Every major OS ships with a better PDF reader, and there are still better open source PDF readers available on all major platforms.


> PDF.js is slow, buggy, and can’t edit documents.

That is leagues ahead of native PDF plugins which are slow, buggy, full of vulnerabilities, closed source, require a deprecated plugin infrastructure and usually can't edit documents either.

PDF.js is one of the better things to come out of Mozilla.


Okay. But the solution is to not involve the browser at all. It's there to browse. Once you find and download the file have it open in a real application designed for reading pdf.


Ideally, yeah. But often PDFs are integrated with the web experience as another web page. Or atleast that's how I treat them. I have 2-5 research papers open in my tabs at all times, and I browse through them like I would with any other article.

Sure if it piques my interest I would download it, organize it but I wouldn't go through the pains of doing that for every pdf I lay my eyes upon.


>download it, organize it but I wouldn't go through the pains of doing that for every pdf I lay my eyes upon.

You don't have to do that. Just set your browser to open the file in a real application. It'll automagically download to some temp dir (ie, /tmp) and you won't have to care about file paths or organization at all (unless you want to).

I have tens of research papers open in my tabs at all times. But for a good experience reading I open the full text in my pdf reader.


PDF.js has had a huge amount of its own vulnerabilities.


I don't think you've spent any time with regular people. The vast majority of the world finds computers to be confusing. The less buttons they have to click the better. All they want really is another appliance that has fixed functionality.


You're being needlessly down-voted here (I can only guess at what silly HN tripwire you've activated) but you're absolutely right. Tech people like us might think it's completely obvious that a browser shouldn't render pdfs or make your toast. But end users don't care. Browser x lets them read stuff quicker without switching to another app. They want the monolith.

We can dislike it, but we need to reconcile it.


Yeah, and I know this first hand. I work at a biotech startup and we have some super intelligent people who regularly get confused with modern UIs. For e.g. Not everyone understands that the hamburger menu is actually a menu. Or that flat shaded text can actually be a UI button element.


This gets to the heart of the matter: what is the core functionality?

For some saving bookmarks isn't effective while a solution like Pocket fits them better. Hello was an experiment to see if making video communication more accessible would connect people. Consider the saying about how no one uses every part of Microsoft Word, yet everyone uses a different ~10%.

Anyway, I think it's great that Mozilla experiment and try pushing the web forward. If only they were more transparent and consistently made these things opt in.


pdf.js seems to work quite nicely.

Seems that's no different than opening with external program, or using a plugin, or using an extension. After all,those things can be updated, whereas the browser should have more core functionality that enable new document types to being opened.


pdf.js performance is horrible, and now without NPAPI it is impossible to view PDF in firefox tab.


PDF.js performs quite well for me and works fine in tabs. It has always been a better experience for me than PDFium, for example.


Building a secure, fast, usable web browser is a near-impossible task on its own. Anything else they do involves a couple of orders of magnitude less effort. Mozilla would still need the vast majority of funding they currently get to do that.

The problem isn't that they're doing too much - it's that they have nearly no business model, and any attempt to create a business model appears to be selling out to users.


No. It is actually pretty easy. Just fork chromium, strip out the spyware, and add your own layer of features on top.

There are a lot of companies doing this now and Mozilla would be far more successful if they followed this model instead of trying to copy chrome's user experience on top of their inferior browser engine.


Yet we also need variety in our engines. Otherwise it's IE6 all over again. Diversity makes us stronger.


Then we get one company deciding which features should and should not be available to a web page.


ESPECIALLY since there exists a whole "add-ons" infrastructure to handle extras.


Are those things really taking up much employee time? Frankly, they don't seem like it. And some side projects are nice - like Rust and Servo. Persona too, even if it didn't caught on.


This is not interesting to the people involved.

They hijacked Mozilla to have a private playground for fun projects paid for by the search engine integration.


This.

I like my niche obscure anti marketing parasite browsers. But I am well aware there's a lot of Mozilla code in Waterfox and Pale Moon.

And ultimately its MS, Mozilla and Google who run this show. And out of those Mozilla is still the least bad.


I think the trouble is that the "web" is an overcomplicated BS clusterf___ for exploiting the plebes.

Some guy posted here a week ago in wonderment over how Mozilla can maintain a browser for a mere $400M+ a year. $400M+ a year!!!

If it takes that much engineering to deliver something which is not substantially different than what we were using 17 years ago, I'd count that as an engineering failure.


At a high level the needle hasn't moved much. But even little movements do add up. I'd rather not go back to a web before fuzz testing, fewer accessibility standards, and password managers. Not to mention AOL and its kind dividing the world into disconnected, walled gardens.


I don't know how your year 2000 was, but in my year 2000, I had broadband, no AOL, and a functioning web browser (which was not IE or Netscape), that could:

* Display web pages * Show images * Play songs and videos * Deliver applications (via Java instead of Javascript, granted) * Download files, and more!

Almost anywhere outside of NYC and SoCal, $400M is still an epic shitload of money.


> "Fork it" is not an acceptable answer. The problem is not with Firefox, it's with Mozilla. Mozilla is a good company at heart and they're an important pillar of the web. Losing them to stupid stuff like this sucks, we should fight for them.

Well, how do you suggest doing this when it appears that the relevant decision-making parts of Mozilla do not answer to anyone "on our side" in any meaningful way?

It seems to me that the only solution is to make an organisation with a fundamentally different system of governance. By virtue of institutional inertia, I figure it would be very hard to do this by actually raising a competing project from the ground up and hoping to capture any of Mozilla's market share or developer base (not to mention the amply made elsewhere in this thread point that Mozilla is big and expensive for a reason).

The far easier, and quite well-tried, solution is to put financial and social pressure on the current leadership to voluntarily open itself to downstream control. The former may be most easily achieved by having an Iceweasel-style "condom organisation" gain traction - that is, someone who tries their best to replicate all of Mozilla's user-facing I/O (releases, sync servers...) in a timely fashion, systematically acts as a QC layer to strip bad decisions like this or Cliqz and otherwise does not waste developer time on niche interests like classic UIs. For the latter, whatever you may think of the person of the tactic, the Brendan Eich story unfortunately shows that pitchfork mob tactics work on Mozilla. Even more cynically, it may be the case that they are the main way anything gets done these days. The (very significant, in my eyes) moral reservations aside, from a result-oriented perspective of what is most useful to reform Mozilla as an organisation, is there any good argument against the "identify a representative set of heads behind this latest measure and call for them" approach?


> the Brendan Eich story unfortunately shows that pitchfork mob tactics work on Mozilla.

Yes. If anyone wants to do a git bisect to find when the Mozilla Corporation lost its integrity, we can say it was definitely "bad" by the time they forced out Eich in April 2014.


How about when they implemented DRM in Firefox just roughly a month after Eich was ousted, which was the actual reason for his departure?

He was the only one higher up keeping that from happening and they didn't even wait until the body was cold to push that agenda.


> Firefox 57 gained a ton of good will from a lot of users

This was the new interface, right? I just saw this the other day and though it looked pretty good; was actually considering a trial switch back (after moving to chrome years ago, when a single bad tab would take down the entire browser).

That’s now put on hold - a compulsory extension is one thing, but having it be purely for advertising is a massive “No” flag to me.

I’m of the view that getting (most) people to consider switching browsers only comes every few years and requires a very large incentive; “We’ve fixed that one incremental problem” isn’t enough. A complete revamp would do it, but takes time to permeate into conciousness. And in the meantime they do this. “Squandered goodwill” seems to be spot-on.


> "That’s now put on hold - a compulsory extension is one thing, but having it be purely for advertising is a massive “No” flag to me."

so that's why you stick with chrome, a browser designed to send all your browsing habits straight to google, the largest online advertising company and commercial tracker in the world?


Chrome may be what you described, but Chromium is pretty reasonable.


The open source version of android used to be reasonable too. How long will that be true of Chromium without open source alternatives?


AOSP is still reasonable, though.


It's just increasingly more separate from what people usually call "Android".


It's what I call "Android." Google services were never part of AOSP. Bundling all the Google services together and naming the bundle didn't change anything in that respect.


If you care about that you just turn them off though.

https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/privacy/whitepaper.htm...


You actually don't have real control over Chrome. Only Chromium is open source, and then you won't have all the features you surely use. Like videos working.

Edit: (+) Sir_Cmpwn, At least not working for me when I try seeing the pages with H264 encoded ones, and when I search, this is what I find:

https://www.howtogeek.com/202825/what%E2%80%99s-the-differen...

"What Chrome Has That Chromium Doesn’t

AAC, H.264, and MP3 Support.

Adobe Flash (PPAPI)."

Chromium is not equal Chrome.


I use chromium on Linux as my main desktop browser. I assure you it plays videos. The only thing it doesn't do is play DRM'd video, which is a feature.


It plays non-DRM H.264 videos? Or maybe you're depending on sites to have multiple versions?


I just tested it, seems to work fine on Chromium.


Videos work on Chromium.


update your conciousness because a complete revamp is what happened. what mozilla did was stupid but its nothing compared to being tracked by google.


It was quantum. Firefox got faster than Chrome with it.


> a compulsory extension is one thing, but having it be purely for advertising is a massive “No” flag to me.

Remember, the extension was not there to advertise the show!

I don't know if that affects the way you're using the term "for advertising", but it affects how I care a lot.


Is Mozilla strapped for cash or something? I’m happy to donate a bit if it keeps them independent.

Google’s behavior with Android/AOSP suggests they’re more than willing to make the open source version of Chrome useless in practice the second there is no viable competition.

I don’t see any organization other than Mozilla that can keep them honest.


> Is Mozilla strapped for cash or something?

Nope. According to their financial statement, the Mozilla Foundation had $69M in "cash and cash equivalents" at the end of last year, about $329M in investments, and literally gave away millions of dollars in grant funding. It's not entirely clear to me how the financial interaction works between them, but the privately-held Mozilla Corporation (i.e. the 1000+(!) employee company that actually makes Firefox, and which the Foundation owns as a subsidiary) had over $500M in revenue from their search engine deals...

See "State of Mozilla 2016" https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/foundation/annualreport/2016/ and also check out the Foundation's financial statement and tax form PDFs on the bottom for more details.


For those that want to donate: https://donate.mozilla.org/en-US/


No, otherwise Mozilla C-Levels would not be getting $500000+ salaries (Google it, it is real) and flying on privately chartered business jets


If you can do the job at a lower salary, you should apply !


Well, they can't do that job as we all see.

The original reason behind them establishing Mozilla Corporation over Mozilla Foundation was that they can keep this practice going while being safe from taxmen reprimanding them for pocketing what is a charity income from tax standpoint.

Now, Mozilla Corporation bills Mozilla Foundation for "service offered at a market price" to do its "socially beneficial, free of charge and any expectation of remuneration" activity, which is selling ads.


> needs a corporation's backing behind it (or a government's)

You touch on an interesting point, maybe Firefox should be soliciting donations from governments who are concerned about the US surveillance state instead of relying so heavily on search ad revenue and being forced to turn to things like this to make a buck.


No offense, but "like, China?" I don't see how involving government(s) and therefore politicising the whole thing is going to make the situation any better. Even if it were support from a government you (but others not) would find acceptable.


TOR is funded by the government, among others (others including Mozilla, heh). https://www.torproject.org/about/sponsors.html.en

Although they should probably not be in charge of the actual development, is it really crazy to think that Firefox could be funded by governments? At some point it is a public service.


Noone can hate with more fierceness than someone that once loved. If you depend on your users to love you, be careful with their trust.


Firefox 57 gained a ton of good will from a lot of users

Let's not overstate things. Firefox 57 gained good will from some users. It also seriously annoyed others, both because of the loss of many useful extensions, and because the new version is horribly buggy and crashes all the time.

The one thing Mozilla still had going for them compared to Google or Microsoft was the emphasis on privacy and respecting the user, and yet I've read about several different cases in recent weeks where that trust has been undermined, this being the latest.


>because the new version is horribly buggy and crashes all the time.

Really? I haven't experienced a single crash, and I was on nightlies before 57 was released, so I could try Quantum.


Yes, sadly. I can't remember the last time Firefox crashed on me prior to 57. I've lost count of the number of crashes/hangs since the update, but it's well into double figures by now. Whether it's Firefox itself or the handful of extensions I have installed, I can't tell for sure, but it's much worse here on a Windows box with more extensions installed than a Linux box with just a few. In any case, if the new runtime model is supposed to make things more robust then unfortunately my experience has been quite the opposite.


57 user on OpenBSD here. No extension installed (at least to my knowledge ;)), no crash to report. It has been a pretty smooth experience so far.


> the new version is horribly buggy and crashes all the time

That has not been my experience, so let's not overstate personal anecdotes as facts.


Please don't quote things out of context in a way that changes the meaning. What I actually wrote contrasted some people's good experience with others' bad experience. It wasn't a blanket statement as it appears when selectively quoted.

I happen to be an existence proof for the bad experience group, but a few seconds with your favourite search engine will readily confirm that I am not alone. I don't know what the ratio of lucky to unlucky users is, nor did I claim to.


I've been using Firefox 57 since the release, and had zero crashes.


I've seen firefox running on computers everywhere during meetings and presentations which I haven't seen for a long time.


The business model of the Internet is surveillance and advertising. It's incredibly hard to resist. It seems like there's an infinite amount of money available if you're willing to surveil and sell out your users.


This is indeed comically sad after the nice Quantum boost.

It was a poor taste joke at the wrong time.. Mozilla is gonna regret this.


> https://twitter.com/steveklabnik/status/941709048529014784

This is such a terrible way to make an argument, present a case, or say anything that can't be said in a few dozen words. He has a blog, it's linked right there. I can't understand why people use twitter like this.


So, the first post in the thread was ~11:30am. The last one was about ~5pm. I basically appended to it during the day, as my thoughts and feelings evolved on an issue. It's not like I completely tossed out all these tweets at once.

That said, everyone uses Twitter differently. I tweet a lot. Some people don't. I personally blog when I have a long-form, well thought out thing to say. I tweet whatever is on my brain at a given moment. Twitter is more raw, more personal. This is a raw, personal issue for me.


I really didn't mind the Pocket integration, probably because I'm a Pocket user myself so can't see the problem.

This is pretty bad though, I'd say this is worse than the Pocket thing because it's abusing the trust and good will of their users


I made my warning about Mozilla Corp+Found a week ago, and as I recall, it was not warmly received... by anyone!

What a difference a week makes!


I feel really sorry for Steve and other real developers. Mozilla is not different from any other managers driven corporation. Very sad. I almost wonder if that's an organized action aiming at removing competition. It's too bad to be unintentional.


Firefox 57 was so nice I started using it every day and was actively migrating things to it from Chrome. I could live with the Pocket thing even though I wasn't wild about it. I hadn't gone as far as setting up a Mozilla cloud account because privacy was a high priority and I didn't want to swap one cloud service for another.

Then this thing blew my machine up the other day, I lost days of work, and...hmm. I don't know why a company would ever do something like this, it's incredibly foolish.


> If Firefox disappears and the fork remains, the fork dies because maintaining a web browser is work that needs a corporation's backing behind it (or a government's).

Perhaps the problem is the fact that the Web is so complex that popular web browsers could only possibly be developed by corporations to begin with.


I for one cannot stand the Pocket integration, I prefer Bookmark OS


I like Pocket.


> Mozilla is a good company

Not since the incident.


Firefox 57 has no love from a lot of web developers I know. It broke things that were working just fine before.


Curious what those things are, because all I can think of is workaround that exploited out-of-spec behaviour (and, of course, web extensions, which has been covered to such a degree it's not just a dead horse but a fresh patch of grass by now)

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