Some questions someone should ask Mozilla

December 17, 2017

I'm still quietly angry about Mozilla's betrayal, even though perhaps I shouldn't be because, as Drew DeVault wrote, Mozilla has been on a slippery slope for a while. Since I can't let this go yet, here are some questions I would like Mozilla to answer because I think they cut to the heart of the larger scale issues here.

  1. Does Mozilla believe it has the right to modify people's Firefox installs without their meaningful informed consent?

    (If Mozilla's answer is 'yes', they don't need to bother with the rest of the questions.)

  2. Does Mozilla believe that it had meaningful informed consent from people to install the 'Looking Glass' addon? If so, how does it believe this consent was obtained?

    (I don't think people believed they were consenting to this when they left 'Allow Firefox to install and run studies' selected, which means that at a minimum it cannot be informed consent.)

  3. How did Mozilla allow this to happen without meaningful informed consent?
  4. How will Mozilla prevent this from happening (without meaningful informed consent) in the future?

Up until now, I and likely many other people believed that Mozilla's answer to the first question would be 'no'; Mozilla did not believe that it had the right to yank around our Firefox installs without our permission. Unfortunately, based on Mozilla's public reactions so far, the actual answer appears to be 'yes'. Mozilla is not sorry that it shoved an addon down people's throats without their consent; Mozilla is sad that people are upset about it. For example, from another quote from Mozilla's marketing people:

[...], we heard from some of our users that the experience we created caused confusion.”

This is mealy-mouthed corporate PR weasel speak and may be freely translated as 'we're sorry that we got caught'.

I didn't title this entry 'some questions for Mozilla', because while they are questions for Mozilla, Mozilla is not going to answer them just because I wrote them; I'm an insignificant blogger, not someone with a voice powerful enough to reach Mozilla's ears or get its attention. It is my hope that someone with enough volume and power to get Mozilla's attention does ask something like these questions to Mozilla, and perhaps being explicitly confronted with the first question will change Mozilla's direction.

(I would say 'wake Mozilla up', but I don't think the people in charge of Mozilla are asleep, exactly. They're just indifferent.)

If Mozilla's answer to the first question is 'yes', as it implicitly is currently, then I must take back some of what I said yesterday about not switching to Chrome. Chrome is certainly not better than Mozilla here (Mozilla still has nominal principles about user empowerment, privacy, and so on), but there may be pragmatic reasons that make Google less likely to do this sort of thing with Chrome. But how I see that is something for another entry.

(I don't currently intend to switch away from Firefox 56, mostly because I don't believe there are any good alternatives for me.)

Comments on this page:

They "modify people's Firefox installs" every six weeks, don't they? I think they messed this one up because this was an advertisement, not because it was a modification.

By Pete at 2017-12-17 12:59:03:

Did you notice that DeVault was forced to retract the core argument of his article and the wrote that he still stands behind the core whatever? Fake but accurate!

By cks at 2017-12-17 15:43:21:

I feel that Mozilla has meaningful informed consent for the every six weeks Firefox version upgrades. You could argue about Firefox 57 and breaking people's extensions, but at least Mozilla clearly tried there in multiple ways. Does this mean that things would have been okay if Mozilla had included the Looking Glass promotion in a new Firefox release? I'll wave my hands and say maybe, but I think it would have been at least arguable, unlike this case.

The way I read DeVault's article is that he was pointing out that this is not a uniquely terrible move on Mozilla's part that comes out of nowhere; instead it's the latest on a series of steps down a slope. I think that core stands intact even after the update about how the addon actually behaves, especially since how it behaves had to be reverse engineered from the addon's code.

By Bruce at 2017-12-19 19:40:45:

Would switching to Firefox ESR avoid this problem? Did they push the Mr. Robot extension to that as well? Seems like they might not want to screw with enterprise deployments as much.

By Miksa at 2017-12-20 09:23:20:

Current ESR 52 didn't seem to receive this and I'm not sure if it even has support for this functionality yet.

I would expect this wouldn't happen with ESR. Extra work to support a niche user base and mostly large companies who might voice their displeasure.

Written on 17 December 2017.
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