Back in March, the Mozilla Foundation built an experimental feature that would disable third-party cookies on its Firefox browser – a move swiftly dubbed "a nuclear first strike against [the] ad industry."
Which makes Mozilla's newly-announced foray into Firefox advertising all the more striking.
In a blog post this week, the foundation said it would start selling space on the new-tab page of its popular browser, real estate that is currently devoted to a "welcome to Firefox" greeting (see photo above).
The format has been dubbed "Directory Tiles," and Firefox sees it as a way to "suggest pre-packaged content for first-time users."
"Some of these tile placements will be from the Mozilla ecosystem, some will be popular websites in a given geographic location, and some will be sponsored content from hand-picked partners to help support Mozilla’s pursuit of our mission," the Mozilla team wrote in the blog post. "The sponsored tiles will be clearly labeled as such, while still leading to content we think users will enjoy."
Mozilla told CNET that the feature will only be visible to new users or those who have re-installed the Firefox browser.
So what's behind the decision to embrace advertising on Firefox? Well, as Romain Dillet of TechCrunch points out, in the past, Mozilla made most of its money from its partnership with Google, which is the default search engine on Firefox. (Google pays for the privilege, and pays out some so-called "search royalties"; more on that deal here.)
"90 percent of Mozilla’s yearly revenue comes from Google," writes Mr. Dillet. "As Firefox’s market share is shrinking, the foundation needs to find a new revenue stream. While Mozilla used be one of Google’s major partner, the company may renegotiate a much less favorable deal now that it has its own browser – Chrome is now much more popular than Firefox as well."
[Editor's note: This article has changed from its original version to clarify that Firefox's ad blocker was only available in test builds of the browser.]