Second, the reasoning. Why? Is Mozilla altruistically trying to help people find new things similar to what they're looking at on the internet? Is this really a problem begging to be solved? What is the relationship with this third party company Laserlike? Which way is money changing hands and how? How do resources get allocated to projects like this as opposed to any other (i.e. curious about prioritization)? From the outside looking in, it seems to have little value, but of course that's why you test these things. It just seems like a strange direction to put resources in.
I personally hope this experiment fails and people do not use their browsers for webpage-like things such as recommendations. This is not the browser's role and I'm becoming increasingly concerned at what larger companies think the browser's role is vs little ole me. My only reason for not wanting it to fail is I know that people put work into it.
On the other hand, if the browser itself can offer links that break out of those walls, then we can sidestep the existing filter bubbles and make the Web a more competitive, plural medium.
Per the announcement post³, if this proves useful, we'll look at alternative means of generating the recommendations; the current implementation (sharing history) is an opt-in shortcut while we figure out if recommendations are worth pursuing at all.
While we are searching for privacy-respecting ways that we can diversify Firefox's revenue, and recommendations could play into that, that's not what this experiment is testing. Further, we will not pursue this outside of Test Pilot if we can't do it in a way that's private and which adds genuine end-user value.
Thats how the recommendation by pocket works, right? Whenever I see these types of systems, I worry they try to hard to show us things more like our past, and dont try hard enough to shape our future. A recommendation engine should be more focused on "this is interesting, this is good for you to learn about" in a healthy way, compared to "this is more of the same but we know itll keep your attention better than facebook."
These AI recommendation engines ALWAYS fall too close to clickbait, like a drug dealer, and never close to a medical healer, currated lists like techmeme/mediagazer/longform/longreads/redef/aldaily. Prismatic and Trove come to mind. I bet one could get better results just parsing those 6 sites for new daily links.
I really don't want some third party trying to "shape my future" by influencing my browsing habits.
What about the education system? You wouldnt go back to school if it was free?
The important part is that its either opt in, or very clear to opt out, and that I can choose the organization I get my, for lack of a better word, education from.
While I agree in general that alternative web traversal techniques could be explored, I am not sure I want my browser vendor + third party doing it. I understand the places we put in our address bar may have restrictive rules, and it's why I don't enter those places into my address bar. In good faith, if this experiment is deemed successful enough to improve/continue, I would ask that the role that Laserlike plays be pluggable with an open protocol. I would also ask that if it's adopted more mainstream that it always remain opt-in.
I know that it sometimes seems unfair to ask for all these freedom-respecting things while the other guys get away with so much. But what seems like a double standard is what endears trust.
- is anyone making money off of this?
- what is the motivation for the third party to take part?
- is this the default, and if not, what extra demands would it have to fulfil to ever become default?
- what user actions, if any, can trigger interaction with this third party?
But let's assume the most charitable and best case scenario, in which Mozilla continues the program but doesn't accept any money for payed spots or higher placement. How are they going to automatically determine what is valuable? If the algorithms go by what is popular, then it's just a new version of any other content aggregator with all the associated problems. (The listicle and click-bait articles shown in the screenshot on the blog.mozilla link are very telling in that regard.) On the other hand, if the algorithms tailor content closely to a user's particular interests and views, that is the very definition of a filter bubble. 
Even putting aside these two worries, I find it deeply counterintuitive to expect automated content to better provide what a user wants to see than they are able to find themselves - e.g. with search engines. This is entirely counter to any previous experience I have had with automatic suggestions. I would very much like to see any justification for optimism here. And even if it were largely successful here, I don't see how it would avoid leaving very small sites, bloggers, and their ideas in the dust. I'm sceptical that a centralized source of recommendations is going to provide a solution to concentrated power on the web.
 This is the sort of line we got about recommendations from Pocket. "Bringing valuable content to the attention of users" is the kind of BS marketing-speak I expect from corps which run on ad revenue, but not from Mozilla.
 "A filter bubble is a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history." - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble
I’d love to see it succeed. Don’t let the gratuitous negativity in this thread get to you.
This is why I prefer to remain on a set of few trusted sites.
search is overridden with advertising, corporate messaging, politics and other moneyed interests. in contrast, users are looking for authentic content and information. those two things are increasingly misaligned.
mozilla is experimenting with a new way for users to find what they want, rather than deferring to google et al. to deliver subpar user experiences.
it may work, it may not, but i’m glad they are trying.
(edit: i probably won’t try it any time soon, due to the privacy concerns voiced here and elsewhere. hopefully mozilla addresses those with a v.2 release and maybe i will try it then)
Is it? I would love for a transparent market-driven motivation to be presented. But in its absence, we can only guess.
> mozilla is experimenting with a new way for users to find what they want
Why? Because they don't like the existing ways? Because they believe it fits their mission? Because there is money on the line? My TV vendor also experiments with new ways to host apps and use the internet too.
> it may work, it may not, but i’m glad they are trying
I personally am not glad they are trying. In fact, these trials help solidify my beliefs in the Mozilla's ideals regarding the role of a browser and can potentially alienate me or at the least prevent them from maintaining an air of righteousness in my eyes.
i'm not defending this new "advance" experiment/feature (i'm reserving judgement until i know more about it). i'm only expressing appreciation for them trying to address a user pain point (that search is crappy), while also responding to the general question "why?" posited by the GP post.
if anyone's made an affordable personal search appliance yet, let me know. =)
Given how they've positioned Pocket and how Firefox's new tab page contains "Recommendations from Pocket", Mozilla seems to want you to enjoy browsing. They want you to enjoy using the Web and to enjoy it using Firefox. It's an interesting play and I'm excited to try it.
Mozilla's mission is the reason people use Firefox. Chrome (and siblings) are better supported by developers and have significantly better performance. Mozilla's marketshare will continue to dwindle if they continue to invest their time in projects like this.
As this is now (and has been for some time) a pattern of this kind of behavior, what's causing it? While other explanations exist, I believe it might be worthwhile to at lest consider the idea that sabotage is goal. Placing people into positions of power for so they can dismantle/sabotage has recently been a popular tactic (e.g. some of the current presidential cabinet appointments). Would anybody even recognize that this kind of tactic was happening before the damage to Firefox becomes fatal?
(to be very clear: I'm speaking hypothetically and not making any explicit or implied accusations about anybody at Mozilla)
Build a browser. Implement the standards fully. Make it scream. That's your job.
Users are supposed to tell computers what to do, not the other way around. I’m afraid that so much more R&D and innovation is happening in the area of computers telling humans what to do and it’s mildly scary.
Isn't that how we ended up with Facebook's ad targeting algorithms controlling most people's web experience? Running a cheap experiment testing how alternatives might work seems like important if you care about not having network effects giving a couple of companies significant control over the web.
> Chrome (and siblings) … and have significantly better performance.
That was never generally true and it really hasn't been accurate for the last year or two, where performance has been very competitive depending on what you're measuring.
A social network doesn't mean Facebook. It could be an open platform like RSS or Mastodon (the latter I think is more closely aligned with Mozilla's mission, and could use the funding). Friends sharing content with me typically do so over Slack or Discord. I don't know how many people could be convinced to use an app that will algorithmically find something cool if you let it watch what you do all day. That's creepy and the value generated is pretty minimal.
> That was never generally true and it really hasn't been accurate for the last year or two, where performance has been very competitive depending on what you're measuring.
In my case, performance has been slow/stuttery on macOS to the point where I keep actively trying to use it, even enabling WebRender, and falling back to Chrome or Safari. I've also noticed the performance issues on Android. It seems fine on Windows, but not noticeably faster than Chrome or Edge.
If you want to send all your browser history into a black box and get recomendations on what to read use Chrome.
The "recommendations" are ads. Ads are not "features", so they will never be protocols.
Otherwise they would be a news aggregator, and so competing with Huffington Post or the zillion others.
They should really come up with paid services insted of these schemes.
But later I understood that the browser history is sent to a machine learning startup called Laserlike:
“At Mozilla, we believe browser history is sensitive information and we want people to clearly understand that Laserlike will receive their web browsing history before installing the experiment. We have also included controls so that participants can pause the experiment, see what browser history Laserlike has about them, or request deletion of that information.”
I certainly wouldn’t try this experiment out. Not because my browsing history is scandalous in any way, but because it’s nobody else’s business to see what I’m doing with my browser, when and where.
I do commend Mozilla for being transparent and also for doing such experiments, even though as a privacy nut, I don’t see myself using this ever.
Where the hell are these controls? Since I installed this thing before reading that it'd send my data to some party, like an idiot, I'd like to request deletion of the data now, but I can't for the life of me find any sort of interface for it. What the fuck, Mozilla?
I too commend Google for the same reasons set forth in plain-speak in the 1st two paragraphs of their EULAs. I also choose to forgo their services for those same reasons. Mozilla has forgotten their purpose & been over-taken by the data miners. Full stop.
Tbh, it sounds more like they are experimenting if having website recommendations in the browser is something worthwhile pursuing, if it is, they'll likely buy laserlike and integrate it clientside without violating privacy in any way, similar to how they have done it several times by now.
WebRTC is a standard and you can easily disable it. Pocket belongs to Mozilla and they opensourced large parts of it and will open source further parts.
Experimenting in this case signals the intent that they may want to explore the direction of "recommend websites to user" and they have, in the mailing lists, stated that if this will continue, they will develop the most privacy preserving option they can.
If you look at the stats their marketshare is increasing over the last few months (25->27% under non-chrome browsers)
It's hard not to have that reaction. A couple days ago there was a front page post on HN about the DNS-Over-HTTPS features that Mozilla is experimenting with. Mozilla has this storied history of community reactions. So perhaps we can all be forgiven for being on edge with Firefox. Our news feed makes it seem like Mozilla is out to get you.
And yet, none of these stories ever end up bearing fruit. How often has Mozilla _actually_ violated your privacy. When rubber meets the road, Firefox is in many ways the most pro-user-privacy browser on the market.
Not to mention all the other work that Mozilla does. Common Voice (https://voice.mozilla.org/en) is an amazing project that could completely change the game for user privacy in the IoT industry. Let's Encrypt stepped up the level of encryption on the internet by an order of magnitude, and it did so for free when everyone else was gouging us. Rust is making many bugs a thing of the past, which will lead to far fewer instances of user data being leaked by security bugs.
Yet through all this work that Mozilla does to fight _for_ you, they get shit on by news articles and in these comment sections. Meanwhile Chrome, which we _know_ is harvesting our data, gets no news.
Perhaps it is because we hold Mozilla to a higher standard. We are used to Google's abuse with Chrome, so we don't talk about it. But any move by Mozilla that could possibly be misconstrued as them becoming corrupt raises all our alarms.
Or perhaps the Firefox team is simply struggling with PR. After all, these last two news worthy incidences are really just issues with communication. Firefox _isn't_ sending all your DNS queries and browsing history off into wonderland. These are experiments. But it seems like a lot of people miss that point. So maybe it's just a communication issue.
Or maybe this all has to do with Mozilla being open. When Google experiments, they do so mostly in secret. Mozilla's transparency might be making them easy targets for sloppy news.
Either way, my point is that a lot of us are happy to throw Mozilla under the bus at the slightest hint of corruption, but we never take the time to appreciate the good work they've done (for free, by the way).
Firefox has constantly violated my expectations of privacy in many ways, by removing important features, adding tracking in many locations (including Google Analytics on internal browser pages), and adding copious amounts of worthless features that use dark patterns in order to convince the user to hand over their data (Firefox accounts, Pocket, 'Take a Screenshot', many more)
Well, that depends. What if the effect is that Firefox's market share dwindles, it disappears, and everyone is forced to use e.g. Google's browser? All of a sudden your higher standards have resulting in only being able to choose lower standards...
> german cliqz partnership/expirement
> Mr. Robot ad forced extension install
> Forcing Pocket into base Firefox
> Google Analytics on mozilla pages (can't run extensions on these domains)
>Obtuse refusal to change Screenshots UI elements to be less confusing (increase chance for user to upload to mozilla's cloud)
> Today's experiment of recreating Stumbleupon in the core browser including sharing your entire browser history with a third party
How can you be claim to be serious about privacy when you partner with a startup to harvest complete browser histories? Makes no sense.
You not only have to install the Test Pilot addon, which is not installed by default, but you then have to enable the experiment.
The sky is not falling just because they're offering something like this locked behind two separate opt-in steps.
I appreciate that Firefox has made this something users have to opt in to, and explicitly enable, and explained that the data is shared with a 3rd party in non legalese.
> The sky is not falling just because they're offering something like this locked behind two separate opt-in steps.
They did the same scam with Pocket. Now, tell me how to disable that again?
You can disable it in about:config.
is what you're talking about, right?
Why the hell is a bloody plugin compiled in with a browser?! I should be able to click "delete" on the plugin screen and purge this trashheap from my system. I shouldn't have to use "hope and prayer" that a plugin isn't used.
Instead, I have to go traipsing in about:config. It's not even in preferences, or plugins, or wherever.
You can use version control, options persist between restarts if you accidentally change something, you can use comments, easily make new profiles that share the same settings
Or you can keep complaining until every piece of software have like 3 options inside a hamburger menu
Have you checked out the alternatives? I remember IceWeasel at one point in Debian.
A more focused attack could purposely poison the daily site set with obscure bad site(s); any users that receive these recommendation should have some browsing history intersection with the bad sites.
"[...] we want people to clearly understand that Laserlike will receive their web browsing history before installing the experiment. We have also included controls so that participants can pause the experiment, see what browser history Laserlike has about them, or request deletion of that information."
So, this is basically a better Stumble Upon, where you can delete the data they have on you.
How are they monetizing the service?
There is a complaint on the Apple App store that while you can delete your history, you may not be able to delete your account: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/laserlike-search-discover/id...
At the point you hit the delete button your data has likely already been spread around to backups (including offline/offsite), been aggregated with other's data, shared with "partners" and sold to other companies and data brokers. The idea that a "delete" button can somehow undo all of that and keep your data out of others hands is absurd.
How are they monetising Firefox bookmarks? How are they monetising the awesomebar? Which is to say: Mozilla doesn't necessarily add features to monetise them. (Although indirectly, most of their money does come through Firefox - and also their influence, in terms of being able to fulfil their mission. The motivation hence is most likely to be that they simply want more people to use Firefox. Another motivation might be that they want less people to be dependent on e.g. Facebook for the discovery of websites.)
I have commented this a couple of times already. I would like Mozilla to focus on fundamental things for a web browser like a good print dialog or syncing your search engines.
I don't think so.
The screenshot with the top100 restaurants exactly looks like an ad placement. It is probably not bad that Mozilla gets other source of income, but please call a spade a spade.
I know it says you can "request" info get deleted, but I'm not going to bet a quarter on that working.
> we will not pursue this outside of Test Pilot if we can't do it in a way that's private and which adds genuine end-user value.
So, unless a considerable part of the userbase is "throwing a tantrum", this will be yet another thing I have to remember to turn off on fresh installs.
Not fighting this kind of erosion tooth and nail at every step endangers the only viable, fully featured, alternative to the Googles browser.
Yes, Mozilla needs to be held to a higher standard, the alternative is the inversion of what it stands for.
I have honestly no idea how one can look at this and go yeah, that seems like its in tune with our values.