That Sponsored Tiles program from Mozilla, which I first wrote about in Mozilla to sell ads in Firefox browser via the Directory Tiles program, has gone live.
To refresh your memory, back in February (2014), Mozilla announced that some of the tiles in a new tab page in Firefox will be sponsored. In other words, ads from Mozilla partners. Note that you need to be using Firefox 33.1 to see sponsored tiles. They’re not available in Firefox 33.0 and earlier.
It was fine by me, as long as I’m told what determines the type of sponsored tiles Mozilla pushes to my new tab page and I have the option to disable the feature. Figure 1 shows the new tab page in Firefox running on a test installation of PC-BSD 10.1. Can you spot the sponsored tile?
Here’s the same page with the mouse cursor over the sponsored tile. Mozilla says that the Tiles feature can be deactivated “by clicking on the gear icon on the top right corner of the new tab page, and selecting Classic to show just history tiles or blank mode.” However, if I select Classic from the gear icon, I still see the same sponsored tile on a new tab page. So it appears that sponsored tile cannot really be disabled. Blank mode disables Directory Tiles completely, but that just disables a very useful feature of the browser.
Figure 3 shows another new tab page running on another desktop of mine. The one in Figure 1 showed a software security-related sponsored tile. How did Mozilla decide to push a health-related sponsored tile to the new tab page in this one? Was it because I made a health-related search using my default search engine? Or was it just random? For the record, I did not visit a CVS website, but yes, I made a health-related search.
Here’s what Mozilla says about Tiles in Firefox Browser Privacy Notice:
Tiles are a feature of Firefox displayed on new tab pages. In order to provide the tiles feature, Firefox sends to Mozilla data relating to the tiles such as number of clicks, impressions, your IP address, locale information and tile specific data (e.g., position and size of grid).
That lives me with the impression that Mozilla does not push a sponsored tile to my new tab page until I start clicking existing tiles. But is that really true? Before I start interacting with Directory Tiles in Firefox, is the sponsored tile I see determined by what Mozilla has in its inventory or something else?
I’m not sure, but I’ll keep a watchful eye on them. If they begin to track my search history too closely, then I’ll know what to do.
Hint: A total of 15 Tiles are displayed on a new tab page, depending your screen resolution (12, if it’s 1024×768). If the number of pinned Tiles is equal to the maximum that can be displayed, you should not see a sponsored tile.