Feedback to the Mozilla (Firefox) Folks

Here’s some feedback I just submitted to the people who work on Firefox. I decided to put my 2 cents in after reading this article, which links to this site. I’m certainly not going to block all Firefox users from my sites – I think Firefox is an excellent browser and I think more people should be using it – but if I could I’d display a polite message to any Firefox user who’s also using an ad-blocking extension and ask them to white-list my site. Firefox not offering publishers a way to detect the use of a certain plug-in makes them complicit in the loss if income that occurs.

“I’m a happy Firefox user, but as a publisher who relies on advertising on my Web sites to make a living, it’s disheartening to see the way Firefox has embraced and even endorsed the AdBlock plugin, allowing people to use my server resources and deny me the income I need to continue to offer that content.

The issue here isn’t that the extensible Firefox design has allowed for someone to develop a plugin that someone else doesn’t like – the issue is that Firefox offers no way for me as a publisher to DETECT the use of that plugin on my site. If I could, I’d display a polite request to the people using it for them to white-list my site and allow the ads to show. I’ve found most people don’t understand how Internet advertising works, and they don’t realize that by just allowing the ads to load they’re helping the Web site. Many people think that if they don’t click on the ads, they might as well block them.

Please, do something to help the people who create the majority of the content on the ‘Net, giving it away for free, with the only request being allowing a few banner ads to load.

Jason Dunn”

  • OSUKid7

    I read the CNET article earlier tonight and am glad to see you’ve already addressed it here. That being said…

    Firefox isn’t the problem here. Sure, AdBlock is an add-on for Firefox, but blaming Mozilla for blocking ads is equivalent to blaming Microsoft/Windows for a website being blocked at work. Developers could create a similar ad-blocking program for other browsers… what would web developers do then?

    I also completely disagree with allowing websites direct access to what extensions a Firefox user has installed. That’s just a violation of privacy. Now if there’s an extension I install to allow access to that data from certain sites… I’d consider it.

    I’ve gone back and forth on my thoughts on AdBlock. I currently don’t use it since I do feel it hurts website owners. There will always be a new way to block ads though. The web is an open platform – your customers (website visitors) will continue to find ways to display the content in the way that best suits them (RSS?). Just like television has adapted to DVRs with product-placed advertisements, I’m sure websites will adapt to the growing ad blocking threat. (hmm… sponsored articles?)

    I believe you wrote about your thoughts on ad blocking a few years ago (perhaps on PPCT?) – do you have a link to that handy?

  • In the same way that Microsoft is responsible for the security of Windows – if they build a platform with security holes, people hold them accountable for it – then I think it’s reasonable that Mozilla be asked to account for an infrastructure they’ve created that has allowed ad blocking plugins to flourish.

    As for the privacy issues, that seems a bit silly to me. Any Web site can query your browser to see if you have Flash, Quicktime, Divx, or any other number of plugins installed – how is this any different? Do you feel your privacy is being violated when a Web site detects that you don’t have Flash installed, or have an older version, and offers to upgrade it for you? No, of course not. How is this any different?

    My understanding is that the developers of AdBlock have specifically taken steps to hide their tracks so that no one can detect the presence of their plugin. Do you think they’re doing that for any other reason than they don’t want to be stopped from being able to block ads? Why hide if their not doing anything wrong?

    Pop-up blockers are one thing – stripping out ads and using server resources to consume content are quite another.

  • chrisgohlke

    Maybe a stupid question, but if ads were hosted on your own server, wouldn’t an Ad Block type of software have no way of telling what was an ad and what was a normal graphic for a site? If so, there is a solution, but it would involve trusting the person who is selling you ad space and might make it harder to get a reliable measurement of ad exposure. Wouldn’t it be a simple matter to set up a directory on the same server your site is hosted on and load the ads to there to serve up to visitors?

  • Chris,

    I wish it worked that way! They do a bunch of detection methods, some of which are domain-based, some of which are common ad unit sizes (728 x 90, 160 x 600, etc.).

  • Pingback: The Personal Blog of Jason Dunn » Blog Archive » When Software Betrays You()

  • OSUKid7

    If it’s a security hole, then it’s a problem in the platform (browser), but what you’re asking is for a feature change. Just like viruses/malware are programs that users of Windows dislike, AdBlock is a “program” for the Firefox platform that users (website operators) dislike. I see why you dislike them, but I don’t understand how you expect Mozilla to provide a solution.

    Regarding the privacy issues in letting websites detect what extensions are installed, that would have to be a setting users could configure for each extension (as are current client-side feature like Flash and javascript). If not, Firefox usage would drop greatly as soon as websites stopped working for users with AdBlock installed. And if that feature were configurable, the AdBlock developers would simply disable that feature for the extension. Inevitably, the feature just wouldn’t work, in my opinion.

    I do agree with you that AdBlock developers are constantly changing/tweaking their code to more effectively block ads. Sure, it’s not what you want, but that’s the goal of their program, so can you really blame them?

    Pop-up ads were once fairly uncommon and users would just close the pop-up windows as they browsed the web. Then they became too numerous, and along came pop-up blockers and most users now never see pop-up ads. Therefore, few websites still even use them, but have gone to the more favorable inline advertisements.

    I do recognize the difference between the evolution of pop-up ads and the use of AdBlock, but think the solution will be the same. The web is an open platform, and users will use the best tools at their disposal to retrieve information as they desire. I fully agree that AdBlock hurts website operators like yourself, but at some point you have to look for alternate solutions than asking an entire ad-blocking revolution to block.

  • OSUKid7

    correction, at the end of my previous comment… “than asking an entire ad-blockin g revolution to *stop.”

  • I tend to side with Jason on this one; it’s like going to a BBQ at a car dealership and being offended when a salesman asks if you like the car you’re looking at.

    The only time I’m against web advertising is when it is intrusive (pop ups). Otherwise it is pretty much stealing content.

    Full disclosure: I am also a web publisher. My sites are a great deal smaller than Jason’s but the ad revenues do pay the server bills, and if I had to pay the bills my sites generate from my paycheck at my day-job my sites would be unable to stay online and the content would be unavailable to the community (for free).