Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Firefox Money: Investigating the Finances of Mozilla (lunduke.locals.com)
124 points by BryanLunduke 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments

As with Wikipedia, what I assumed how the organization operated and how it does is vastly different.

Basically everything here seems biazarre and makes trusting Mozilla very hard. Does anybody believe that they can stand up against Google, when Google, at any point they want to, could crash their whole operation?

I think it is quite likely that Google is keeping Mozilla afloat to avoid anti-trust allegations. Mozilla existing is worth a few hundred millions to Google. But Mozilla apparently has no real use for that money, they spend around 200M on software developmemt that means one thousand high paying software developer positions. And they could hire hundreds of more developers at any point.

HN loves to simultaneously criticize Mozilla for

1) being financially dependent on Google

2) spending resources on literally anything except Firefox

3) doing anything that smells like monetizing Firefox, no matter how innocuous

Spoiler alert: They have essentially no hope of avoiding 1 without doing at least a little bit of 2 or 3. Unlike Google, Apple, and Microsoft, they don't have billions of dollars coming through the backdoor from other business units.

As for "whether they can stand up to them", they can and do, all the time. Including _literally this week_ with Google's Web integrity bullshit. Whether it accomplishes much is a different matter, but it's not for lack of an attempt on their part.

>HN loves to simultaneously criticize Mozilla for 1...3

You summarise pretty much everything that is wrong with HN started appearing somewhere around 2013 before becoming mainstream in 2016+.

That is having zero understanding on business. Cash Flow, Revenue Generation, Sustainable business model, and market monetisation. Ironically on forum that is about startup and VC.

I do get that they aren't in a position where they have easy choices, but what they are currently doing is wrong. They need to be a much smaller and focused organization, which can generate funds from various sources and use them to do effective development. You don't need 200M to develop firefox.

In their current position they exist to give Google some protection against anti-trust allegations. That is about the worst spot for their organization to be in.

>As for "whether they can stand up to them", they can and do, all the time.

You are right. Google likely knows that they can completly ignore them, so they can say whatever they want.

> You don't need 200M to develop firefox.

Based on what logic? It's 20+ million lines of code touching half if the "hard" problems of computer programming - graphics, fonts, encodings, localization, JIT engines, hardware acceleration, support for multiple architectures (including aforementioned JIT), support for multiple operating systems, massive parallelism, sandboxing, WASM support, hardware support abstractions like WebUSB and WebMIDI, etc, and a massive swamp of compatiblity hacks, and literally books worth of new standards they have to implement every year.

Much of which has to be as high performance as possible while simultaneously not being ludicrously insecure, because the threat environment is basically as hostile as it gets.

The fastest way to "become a lean organization" would be to just give up and become yet another Chromium clone. Barring that, they have a lot of software to maintain if they want a truly independent browser. A modern browser is comparable in effort to supporting an entire operating system, because that's what browsers kind of are nowadays.

About the only other option is to lay off all their staff in SF and Paris and other HCoL areas and relocate to Central and Eastern Europe.

For 200M you can get around 1.5k full time developers, not including community contributions. That is quite a lot and they easily could add hundreds of more developers if they wanted to.

The specific number they pay is also not that relevant, what I am concerned about is their position. They have one "customer" that enables their entire operation. That is bad for any organization, if that is also your main competition you are in an even worse spot. The longterm sustainability of Mozilla depends on being able to operate independently from Google funding.

Their revenue is 800 million. It sounds like a lot of money for a browser Over the last 10 years their revenue would?? say 5 billion. That is a lot

What the hell is this? Has HackerNews now turned into a site where ACTUALLY GENERATING GREAT REVENUE WITH YOUR PRODUCT IS FROWNED UPON!?

I don't understand this comment at all. Is making money a bad thing now? I thought that was the whole point of being a hacker and starting a bsiness and then getting funding and doing hard work and then boooom .. revenue, money, profit! Success!

No? Not anymore? Or is Mozilla special and are they not allowed?

(Sarcasm - please do not respond)

Sounds like a lot of money to develop a browser. Who should they distribute the profits to ? and are donations share holders profit

Obviously the don’t have share holders

Mozilla can explore turning Firefox freemium and cutting relience on Google.

At 10% conversion, and $20/year price point, Mozilla would be making the same money it now makes from Google, but it would be coming 100% from its users, aligning all incentives. Then it is a whole new reality regarding product and company decisions.

The browser is the most intimate product we spend hours in every day to access information. The age of paying for your browser and have it work in your interest should re-emerge.

I would gladly give five figures to Mozilla if I knew it would go, without replacement, to Firefox. They don't. So I won't. Nothing else they do is remotely offensive compared to the mission creep.

How would you donate to Firefox? Firefox is the result of many things that cost money. That includes many expenditures like people's salary, toilet paper for the offices and a JIRA license.

It is a serious question - how do you expect this to work in such a way that you feel you contribute directly to the development Firefox? What does that mean in reality? Is that even possible?

Are you joking? I'm sure OP would be fine with any of the things you mention. The problem is that it's not even possible to donate directly to Mozilla Corporation [1] (let alone toilet paper for employees working on firefox), so your donation might as well go to any random unrelated project the Foundation decides to do.

[1] which develops more than just firefox: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mozilla_products but

They have one billion dollars and they're cutting back on Firefox software development. If anything they don't get hated on enough.

Bear in mind a lot of it is just concern trolling.

Many of the people saying this have as much interest in improving the things they complain about as anti-renewable comments have a genuine interest in reducing bird fatalities.

Mozilla (and Wikipedia as mentioned by the OP) have been subjected to a long running culture war boycott.

Similar to wind power, I'd guess their continued success in the face of this contributes to the feelings of anger towards them.

How is it "concern trolling" to point out that Mozilla is kept alive by Google and unable to allocate funds appropriately? I am a Firefox user and I want Mozilla do be serious competition against Google.

The concerns are legitimate and ofen raised by people who genuinely want Mozilla to be better. Accusing people of concern trolling when they point out legitimate issues is a sure way to never get these issues fixed.

>Similar to wind power, I'd guess their continued success in the face of this contributes to the feelings of anger towards them.

This is such an abysmal mindset. Both Mozilla and Wikipedia should operate with the goal of improving their product. Both are severely mismanaging funds away from the things people actually care about. The only things they really are successful in is raising funds.

Success for Mozilla is having a popular, open, sustainably funded and independent browser. In this regard they are a failure, but I absolutely don't want them to be.

Wikipedia is just trolling suckers into giving them money by pretending they are about to go under, when they are extremely well funded, so much so that huge amounts of funds vanish into undisclosed webs of charities.

2a - crazy CxO bonuses

Not going to argue the article, Mozilla should be doing better. But the author obviously is trying to push some politics not so subtly.


Ah yes, it is the author who pushes agenda not "not profit" Mozilla "donating" $480000 to political organizations.

It is both, but Mozilla has never tried to hide it. Read their blog for a bit and you'll see ton of advocacy for various subjects.

Cherry-picking expenses that total barely 500k out of a 500M budget and hiding it behind "noooo we don't get political here promised" is also pushing an agenda.

The Mozilla Foundation does plenty of stupid shit. I don't agree with much of what they're doing, starting from Baker's insane pay for how terrible of a job she does. But 400k to an association... At best that pays for two rallies that total 500 people, at worst it's giving money to friends.

What a dumb hit piece. The author Cherry picked things to politicize.

How about the many millions of dollars the Mozilla Foundation spends on grands and research supporting so many individuals and organizations that help make the world a better place.

The full list can be found at https://assets.mozilla.net/annualreport/2021/mozilla-fdn-990...

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whataboutism

2) They still have no job focusing on these things when their browser, their main product, is loosing market share like crazy. Why not spend all that money on Servo and Oxidation instead?

3) It's not politicizing to say that a software developer is using money for political purposes instead of making software. You are the one politicizing this because you deflect from this valid criticism into a discussion about the author's politics.

Disgusting. I hope that Mozilla can re-focus on their original mission, and align their finances with building the best browser possible rather than wasting it on political activism.

What is their original mission?

Developing Firefox.

Nope. Not correct.

How is it not correct? Have you read the original statements by Netscape and Mozilla?

Fortunately, they are very easy to read if you haven't done so yet, thanks to Archive.org.

1. Here is the first statement by Netscape, clearly showing Mozilla's original intent to help develop Netscape's client: (https://web.archive.org/web/20021004080737/http://wp.netscap... )


> Netscape Communications Corporation (NASDAQ:NSCP) today announced the creation of mozilla.org, a dedicated team within Netscape with an associated Web site that will promote, foster and guide open dialog and development of Netscape's client source code.

2. Here is the second statement by the newly formed entity, clearly showing its goal to "lead open-source browser efforts": (https://blog.mozilla.org/press/2003/07/mozilla-org-announces...)

> Mozilla.org announces launch of the Mozilla Foundation to lead open-source browser efforts

There's even a side paragraph "About mozilla.org and the Mozilla Foundation" that states the following mission statement:

> Mozilla.org (www.mozilla.org) is the group that exists to make Mozilla a successful open source project. Mozilla.org provides open source Internet client software that includes a browser, mail and news functionality, and a toolkit for developing web-based applications. Mozilla.org was founded by Netscape Communications Corporation.

Obviously relying on Google for money is fraught, but it isn't exactly clear where they'd get an equivalent source of income. Otherwise the subtext seems to be "I don't like their politics" which suggests maybe the author shouldn't donate any money to them. Personally I would be sad if Firefox was neglected, but that doesn't seem to be happening, as far as I can see.

I suppose Microsoft might be willing to broker a deal to have Bing as the default search, although that would probably attract similar levels of criticism from the same people.

DuckDuckGo would be the "obvious" choice, but I doubt they can come up with the same kind of numbers.

Brave Search might be an option, but unlike Google and Microsoft the browser is Brave's main product so they might not want to deal with a competitor, they probably have a lot less cash lying around, and they have some history with Mozilla.

Yahoo! Search is still around, maybe some others? I don't think anyone other than Microsoft and Google have a spare ~$500 million lying around for this though.

Wait what? "spare money lying around?" that is a complete misunderstanding of how this works. You make it sound as if that money is some kind of "donation". THat Google is doing Mozilla a _favour_ here. But nothing could be further from the truth: instead this is a business deal where everyone wins. (Read: generates a stupid amount of revenue)

Google probably makes at least 3x of what it pays Mozilla in search royalties. At least. Who knows what Google makes with what it does after Firefox has done its small part.

This is a hugely profitable business for Google. That has _nothing_ to do with "spare money lying around". This is a cash cow for Google. Specially since they do the same with other players like Apple. Many many billions of dollars are at stake.

Realistically Google is doing Mozilla a favor and the money is a donation.

Firstly, Firefox's remaining userbase is pretty technical. They aren't the sort of people to blindly use defaults because they don't know how to change them. Even if Google cut Mozilla off entirely, tomorrow, 90% of Firefox users would continue to search on Google by default.

Secondly, what would Firefox switch to? Bing? What if MS don't care about paying Mozilla either, or only are willing to pay a fraction of what Google pays? What's Mozilla going to do? They'd have to go with Bing anyway because it's that or nothing. There are no other search engines willing and able to pay lots of money for browser traffic.

So Mozilla would be in a double bind: even if MS paid them to replace the Google deal, (a) most of their users would change the default back again, so they'd refer very little traffic and (b) Microsoft could cut them a very bad deal and they'd have to take it anyway. They'd still suffer a huge drop in income overnight.

No matter what Mozilla does, they will be depending on one of two companies BOTH of which make competing browsers and frankly, both of which would be quite happy if Mozilla just went away and died, given that from their perspective Mozilla's primary contribution to the web is telling the Chrome/Edge teams they can't do things.

I don't get the anti-trust angle. There is browser competition: Chrome, Edge, Safari, Brave, Vivaldi, etc. If Mozilla tried to claim that Google ending their deal was anti-competitive, they'd just immediately lose in court.

My guess is that Google continue to be Mozilla's sugar daddy for legacy reasons. They've done it for a long time, cutting Mozilla off would upset a lot of techies and the money is irrelevant to Google. But one day that calculus will change.

What might cause the calculus to change? Most obviously, if Google decides that Mozilla is no longer actually developing their browser properly, or if Mozilla's management just upsets the relevant point-person at Google badly enough. Baker obviously stopped caring about web browsers years ago, if she ever did at all, and is now treating the Google deal as a piggybank for pushing her political ideology. All it takes is for the person responsible for the Mozilla deal to be replaced by someone who hates anti-white wokeness and they've got all the ammo they need to just defund Mozilla completely. A less sympathetic organization is hard to imagine.

> All it takes is for the person responsible for the Mozilla deal to be replaced by someone who hates anti-white wokeness

That you write this utter nonsense tells more about you than about Mozilla ... shows your true colors. Wow.

From the article, that is what Mozilla is funding:

Mckensie Mack is a public speaker who regularly discusses her anger at “White Colonialism” and her dislike of “CIS” men and women.

That founder, Neil Lewis Jr., appears to have focused his career on “vaccine acceptance”, problems with “white” people, and his theory that “white people” can not be victims of discrimination.

They provide links to back these claims up. It's not what you'd expect from a browser company.

You need to have the $500 million "spare money" lying around if you want to invest it.

From the report: During 2021, Mozilla paid $387 Thousand dollars to a Mckensie Mack Group whose LinkedIn page describes itself as “Black-led and nonbinary-led, MMG is a global social justice organization”.

And another $100K to an "Action research collaborative" that sounds like another social justice org?

WTF? This sounds like money laundering. I just want a good browser. I'm now regretful that I was donating regularly to Mozilla.

100% looks like money laundering. They paid six figure amounts to businesses that don't even have a website and are impossible to find any information on:

  - "What, exactly, is “Action Research Collaborative”? That is a surprisingly difficult question to find an answer to, as they have no website whatsoever. One of the few references to it is in a Cornell newsletter from earlier this year..."
  - "$30,000 to “MC Technical Inc.” in 2021. Who are they? Well, they don’t have a website, that’s for sure. The business registry listing is about the only thing of the company that seems to exist. The listed address is someone’s house."
  - "Why do some of the recipients of Mozilla money appear to be nothing more than empty shells of companies — not even having a simple website?"
  - "Why does Mozilla continue to take donations if it doesn’t need them?"
  - "Where does Mozilla spend those donated dollars?"
  - "Why is Mozilla decreasing software development funding when development of Firefox is the cash cow?"
And the author adds this update at the end of the article: "August 5th, 2023 Update: To date, no request for clarification or additional details has been answered."

This is extremely suspicious on Mozilla's part. I hope there is further investigation into all this wild spending they are doing using public donations without any accountability.

"$30,000 to “MC Technical Inc.” in 2021. Who are they? Well, they don’t have a website, that’s for sure. The business registry listing is about the only thing of the company that seems to exist. The listed address is someone’s house."

It is a nice round number so it is probably someone who did some work for them and sent them an invoice. There is nothing special about that. Unless you have an agenda to make it sound like something bad. Which I think the author does.

Many hacker news readers have their own incorporated with weird names that are registered to their home addresses. Because when you provide services to a company you ideally need a legal entity. Having an address is a legal requirement. And having a website is not.

It is that simple. The Mozilla Foundation probably has many contractors that do work for them.

Similar to "Why do some of the recipients of Mozilla money appear to be nothing more than empty shells of companies — not even having a simple website?" - it just shows the author has no idea how small non-profit / 501(c) world works. It is easy to make it sound like a headline but in reality it is probably just small non profits struggling to get funding to do interesting things.

"Why do some of the recipients of Mozilla money appear to be nothing more than empty shells of companies — not even having a simple website?"

This is exactly how many readers here at hacker news also run their business: you need an official entity to receive money.

And if you are doing something interesting that the Mozilla Foundation would like to support with a grand for example then you will need to have that "empty shell" because if you receive funding for a project personally you will be taxed the shit out of it and lose many benefits. There is literally nothing special about this.

"Where does Mozilla spend those donated dollars?"

should really read

"Where does the Mozilla Foundation spend those donated dollars?"

Because although the author conflates Foundation and Corporation they are in fact separate entities and money does not go into a single bank account.

If you want to know where the Mozilla Foundation spends your donated dollars then you can read their financial report. There are many dozens of line items that list where money goes.

"Why does Mozilla continue to take donations if it doesn’t need them?"

Because raising money is literally what non profits do as their primary means of income. They cannot just "take" money from the "cash cow", the Corporation which is a separate entity.

I sort of understand that Mozilla wants to care for the concept of an open internet which requires a lot more than just software development. I don't particularly understand or like the exact things they finance, but politics is a complex game in which you loose if you don't play.

What I absolutely fail to understand though is why they don't have long-term focus on diversifying income? All their alternative revenue sources are neglibile, and their strange attempts to provide paid products seem to be either hobby-projects of someone at mozilla (ex: pocket) or a cheap rebrand of a product (ex: vpn).

Am I wrong to expect more from such a technologically capable organisation?

They do have a focus on that, it just hasn't really panned out. To be fair, you're talking about the billion dollar question. It's not exactly an easy problem.

Google is paying Mozilla to develop a web browser, to allow Google to develop a web browser without pissing off anti trust.

They're doing a merely ok job. It's not clear if that's intentional or because they're badly run.

There's a story there, this article seems to mostly be political winging.

The reason why there is a foundation that owns two for profit corporations, is so the corporations can pay taxes. It is the opposite of shady.

Mozilla should convert to a worker owned enterprise and stop giving all of that money to execs.

>Mozilla should convert to a worker owned enterprise and stop giving all of that money to execs.

The compensation to execs seems irrelevant. That is almost literally just a Google bribe.

Mozilla pays 200M for software development, from that I can only assume that they pay quite generously and they seem to have absolutely no issue with money, as they are funded by Google.

To me it seems hey have more money than they know what to do with. Hardly something which could be fixed by workers rising up and taking care of distributing Googles Millions.

Mozilla literally forced out the creator of Javascript, Brendan Eich, because of his religious and political views.

They're funded by Google because Alphabet doesn't want another IE6/MS anti-trust case. They are planned/fake competition. The fact that there are privacy aware forks of Firefox (like Librewolf) speaks volumes.

> Mozilla literally forced out the creator of Javascript, Brendan Eich, because of his religious and political views.

That's inaccurate and unfair. He resigned (was not forced out) and the backlash he faced wasn't because of his religious and political views, but because he was working to impose his religious and political views on others. Nobody was demanding that Brendan get gay married, but he wanted to prevent others from getting gay married if they wanted to.

Should still convert to a worker owned enterprise. Democratically the workers most likely wouldn't vote to waste money on Google bribes like the execs have.

Sure, they would equitably distribute the Google bribe amongst themselves.

As they should.

No, they should develop a browser.

The worker-owners should democratically decide what to do with their money.

Maybe they should have a try at becomming a bakery?


"only small companies can be worker owned" is a bit antiquated.

You don't get to tell the workers what they do with their corporation.

Mitchell Baker needs to go and let people do their job.

How has she not been ejected after so many years of falling market share? I have a really hard time understanding the business sense of a board that hasn't taken a very hard look at Mozilla's leadership.

I couldn't possibly say, but one might suspect she has old connections with early Googlers, and Mozilla is still (at ever lower revshare rates in successive deals) a cheap source of search traffic for Google, and good PR aka "antitrust repellant". At $5.6M/year comp, wouldn't you sell your soul this way? https://assets.mozilla.net/annualreport/2021/mozilla-fdn-990...

Because the board is perfectly content with sucking Mozilla dry.

Mitchell Baker - Lawyer, wrote the MPL (involved since Netscape)

Laura Chambers - Stanford MBA, ex-McKinsey, ex-eBay C-suite, ex AirBnB, ex Paypal. Currently CEO of a wearable breast pump company.

Kerry Cooper - Harvard MBA, currently also in the board of PG&E, Upstart, Gradient, Fernish, Fictiv as well as an executive-in-residence at Acrew Capital.

Karim Lakhani - PhD in management at MIT, Professor of Business Administration, publishes papers on management and once a decade a paper on open source/open contribution.

Bob Lisbonne - Stanford MBA, venture capitalist, ex Netscape/Mozilla

Hugh Molotsi - Computer Engineering Masters, ex Intuit, specializes in intrapreneurial actions

Kristin Skogen Lund - INSEAD MBA, ex Coca-Cola, ex Unilever, various governmental positions in Norway

The amount of people with technical knowledge on that board is low. The amount of people that aren't MBA leeches is low. The board is perfectly happy to keep the grift going.

She is an old timer that is with Mozilla since the beginning. Should be pretty hard to challenge her from the inside after Brendan Eich departure.

What I have to say is that Brendan Eich lost his respect with hia peers inside Mozilla after donating for the campaign against gay marriage, so it was entirely his fault.

Mitchell was a Netscape lawyer who wrote the NPL and MPL. She was not part of mozilla dot org from the beginning.

Your irrational animus toward me may be making you sloppy with that false claim about Mitchell in your first sentence, but your second paragraph just makes stuff up out of whole cloth. Lying, in a word. Mozilla rank and file as far as I know wanted me to stay. I have many letters and emails testifying to this.

It doesn't do you any credit to fulfill wishes this way, even on HN where a noisy but surprisingly small cohort do it vs. me, endlessly.

Was there. Baker has constructed (and deconstructed) Mozilla to provide her with money and power. Full stop. The Google search deal is an easy way to keep Brussels off Google's back. Any normal Board would have fired her many years ago for non-performance. Brendan was popular with most engineers but a small but vocal minority had problems with a single political contribution he made years before and his somewhat cavalier way of explaining it. IMHO he was unsuited as a Mozilla CEO but he has made Brave what he wanted Mozilla to be, so happy ending.

Pretty sure his peers were fine with him continuing at Mozilla. Not so much staff

Is this you Google. Sorry, even if Firefox was run by the mob right now, it’d be better than handing you control of the web.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact