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Firefox is on a slippery slope (drewdevault.com)
2023 points by Sir_Cmpwn 11 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'.

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