Mozilla, the creator of Firefox, has recently been putting forward an effort to explore ways in which they can personalize the web browsing experience without users having to sacrifice privacy. One of their latest endeavors is a proposal for Firefox to share information about your personal interests with websites you visit.
They have carried out testing with the assistance of volunteers to explore how Firefox can utilize a user’s browsing history in order to tailor a user’s online experience. For the experiments carried out with the volunteers, their browsing history was matched with apparent interests and the participants were subsequently shown the time they allocated to these various categories. Mozilla wants to take this a step further, however, by sharing the information about interests — but not browsing history — with websites.
Justin Scott of Mozilla Labs drew the following analogy of the approach Mozilla is taking:
“For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible. Destinations like the Firefox Marketplace could recommend recipe and movie apps, even if it’s my first time visiting that site. And, as a user, I would have complete control over which of my interests are shared, and with which websites.”
It isn’t quite clear how exactly this tailored experience is to be implemented but, as Scott pointed out, it is usually more appealing to view content you actually wish to view and are interested in instead of having to sift through random unfamiliar content. So, if Mozilla is successful, this could quite possibly greatly enhance our web browsing experience. In that regard, this initiative looks quite promising. I do, however, have one concern about this idea which arises mainly because information has to be shared with websites.
Even though Mozilla states that the user would be in full control over a feature like this, I still have a feeling of uneasiness and suspect that some level of privacy invasion could occur with something like this. This feeling could potentially be unwarranted (depending on how Mozilla implements this feature, if at all) but it is there nonetheless. If something like this is implemented in a future version of Firefox, there should be an option to opt out from using this feature. And I’m not the only one who is thinking along these lines. Martin Brinkmann over at Ghacks shares similar concerns about Mozilla’s plans.
With that being said, I think it is too early yet to say if this endeavor is flawed or not and persons — like me — should wait a bit to see exactly what Mozilla has in mind.