Mozilla's Looking Glass 'retrospective' is unfortunately inadequate

January 31, 2018

You may remember Mozilla's betrayal of Firefox users and its nominal principles when it force-pushed a misleading named and described promotional addon through its SHIELD studies system. Mozilla ate a certain amount of crow at the time and promised a postmortem about the whole thing. They have finally delivered with Retrospective: Looking Glass (via). Unfortunately there are problems (still).

Things go bad right at the start of the retrospective:

In December, we launched a tv show tie-in with Mr. Robot, Looking Glass, that alarmed some people because we didn’t think hard enough about the implications of shipping an add on that had the potential to be both confusing and upsetting. [...]

Either Mozilla did not take their root analysis far enough to understand the core problem or they're still not willing to admit it: when Mozilla force-pushed Looking Glass, they betrayed the trust of Firefox users. The problem is not the addon that they shipped, the problem is that they shipped the addon.

Mozilla's retrospective does admit that they misused the SHIELD system and they have announced new principles to stop them from doing this in the future. But as long as their root problem is not addressed, this is simply blocking one particular mechanism (out of many possible ones) instead of putting an end to the philosophy. I find it not particularly surprising but still depressing that this retrospective does not come very close to addressing the questions I would like Mozilla to be asked, starting with 'do you think you have to right to do this sort of thing without informed consent from users'.

(Perhaps Mozilla thinks the answer to that is obvious and is 'of course we don't'. Well, given Looking Glass, that answer is no longer obvious to people outside Mozilla (at least), so Mozilla should be reaffirming it in public and re-committing themselves to it. As it stands, their silence here on this leaves at least doubts.)

Since Mozilla apparently doesn't understand that people gave them trust and they betrayed that trust, I don't think they can necessarily be trusted in the future. Whether you re-enable SHIELD studies in light of Mozilla's new principles for their use is up to you, but if you do you should do it because you explicitly want to do Mozilla a favour and you're willing to take the risk that Mozilla will 'abuse' the mechanism in the future.

(I put 'abuse' in quotes because Mozilla probably will claim and perhaps honestly think that whatever they do isn't an abuse of their stated principles. That's kind of the problem with Looking Glass; Mozilla demonstrated that they were blind to what they were doing (wilfully or otherwise).)

As far as future questionable Mozilla decisions go, well, I'm not planning on giving Mozilla the benefit of the doubt any more. If they put forward a potentially dubious feature and ask me to trust them that it's a good thing and won't be abused, my new answer is 'no'. As a result, I will be turning off this Pocket stuff and other future things as forcefully as I can manage.

Written on 31 January 2018.
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Last modified: Wed Jan 31 23:05:29 2018
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