Your Reality Is Driven By Marketing
December 15, 2017 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, some people noticed that The Mozilla Foundation hijacked their own in-browser "Shield Studies" program to distribute "Looking Glass", an Alternate Reality Game based on the TV Show Mr. Robot for Firefox 57 users. This was discovered as a fresh add-on with the entire description being "MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT FROM YOURS.", leading some to suspect their browser had been hacked. Surprisingly, privacy-conscious users were not amused.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick (116 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
What on Earth were they thinking?
posted by brundlefly at 3:23 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


If I were writing an article that ended with a remark that we asked the people involved and hasn't received a reply, I'd go full Cunningham's Law and write, "We have not received a response, and most likely never will (psst, that's your cue to make me look like an idiot)."
posted by BiggerJ at 3:34 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


What on Earth were they thinking?

💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸
posted by GuyZero at 3:36 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm angry about this. Do not put ads for TV shows into my browser. Especially do not slip an unexplained addon into my browser. Now we get to go through a whole exercise of figuring what the addon does, whether it has any exploitable security holes or privacy violations, etc. I seriously question the judgement over who approved this.

I love Mozilla Foundation. I just switched to Firefox because the new Quantum browser is so fast and nice. Then they pull a stupid stunt like this. Come on guys.

On preview; was it money? It's a non-profit, the financials might come eventually. They are making so much money right now with browser marketshare and search engine contracts that it would be really fucking stupid to jeopardize that for a few thousand bucks for an ad for a TV show. I suspect it was more someone who's really a Mr. Robot fan who thought it'd be fun and has terrible judgement.
posted by Nelson at 3:38 PM on December 15, 2017 [23 favorites]


I've been using Firefox since at least version 3.something, because it allowed me to tailor it to my preferences. But now, there's not much of that notion left in the latest version and I'm just about to give up and go through the hassle of switching to and setting up something else.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:38 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I noticed this two days ago. I was not fucking amused when I couldn't even google about what it might possibly be for the first day or so.

Further, I'd only discovered it after a few days of noticing my browser was churning so much swapfile space that I'm worried I got jacked, so I went to go look at my settings for noscript and whatnot.

On that note, the new "insanely fast" firefox isn't really. It was kind of fast for the first few hours of the upgrade, but after noscript was updated and working again I swear this shit is 10x slower than the older version w/ noscript. It's so slow and leaks so much goddamn memory I'm about to gasp try out opera again, or even Chrome.
posted by loquacious at 3:47 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


> 💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸

We didn't make any money off of this; it was intended as an easter egg in Firefox for fans of the show.

I'm sorry. I can't talk about this much, but we know we misjudged this and we're going to do better.
posted by mhoye at 3:48 PM on December 15, 2017 [64 favorites]


Honestly, what I really want to know is why everybody that heard about this didn’t throw their body in front of it.
posted by wotsac at 3:52 PM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


about:config > experiments.enabled > set to false

It should be false by default but unfortunately this is the kind of stunt that every browser developer does, Mozilla just happened to have been caught this time and at least for now we can opt-out.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Sigh.
posted by danhon at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


It would have been a fun Easter egg if it was an original story or game made by Mozilla, not something - anything - tied into a profit-making enterprise.
posted by adrianhon at 4:01 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Any other company, this would barely be a thing, but this is Mozilla, and they ought to have known better. Abusing the experiments system is problematic; making the extension description just "MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS" rather than an honest description of what they're doing is really just the last straw. It's hard to imagine why someone thought that was ok.

There are a ton of really smart Mozillians who could have seen the problems here a mile away. Something like a decade ago (yikes!), I saw a group of Mozilla engineers raise concerns about the poorly-thought-out branding of an upcoming marketing initiative, all-company emails were exchanged, an open meeting was held, and the name was changed. Watching a process like that, where a couple of engineers not involved in that project felt empowered enough to speak up about something elsewhere in the company they felt did not represent Mozilla's values, that's honestly always been inspiring to me even years later. It's actually something I still look for in a company: is this the kind of place where everyone feels like it's their job to say, 'hey, I don't think this is who we are. Can we talk about this first?'

From the outside here, it sounds like the secrecy around this project (and assuming good faith, maintaining the surprise was presumably part of the fun) kept too many people from finding out about it until it was too late to say anything. And then, as usual, shooting themselves in the foot by the tendency to speak in marketing-speak instead of, say, the forthright tones of mhoye here.
posted by zachlipton at 4:04 PM on December 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


Yeah no if you wanna gamify privacy consciousness you don’t do it via unsolicited marketing stunt on a public open source application distro.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:13 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


I had been thinking of switching from Chrome to Firefox. Now, I'm not sure I'll bother.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:14 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


I used FF57 for a few days before downgrading back to v56 due to one seriously nasty bug I ran into. FF, somehow, kept changing the application associations for all the image files on my computer. It was maddening. The issue vanished as soon as I was back on v56. Glad I got away from 57 before Mozilla pulled this stunt.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I didn't encounter this, but I recently switched to Firefox specifically for privacy reasons. Just last night I was thinking about why I place my faith in Mozilla, and I reassured myself that they're trying to be a model of responsible open-source software. Way to completely blow it.

Reddit is a great example of a platform that's full of sneaky viral advertising. Part of why it works so well is that you can't always tell the difference between an ad for a product, and a post by someone who is just enthusiastic about that product. Ad for Mr. Robot, or labor of love by some fans, the end product is going to look very similar, and the end result is to do some (free or paid) marketing for the show. So Reddit has viral Pepsi ads; Ubuntu has an Amazon app installed by default; Firefox had a promotion for Mr. Robot. Welcome to the club, Mozilla.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:16 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Good god, I can't think of a PR disaster more likely to be a project-ender than a reminder that we control your browser, not you, user. It's the Romney 47% remark of dumb stunts.

Maybe the internet will not set them on fire, but that will be a matter of luck.
posted by ctmf at 4:39 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry. I can't talk about this much, but we know we misjudged this and we're going to do better.

Forgive the tone, but your team did this seriously dumbfuck thing and didn't even get PAID for it?

Find the one in the meeting who harped on how bad an idea this was and put them in charge. The current leadership are fools.
posted by tclark at 4:54 PM on December 15, 2017 [52 favorites]


I was thinking about watching Mr Robot, but after reading this, I think I'll pass.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 4:55 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Wow, what a shockingly terrible idea. And frankly, the PR-speak non-apology response is even more frightening than the original mistake, because it seems to indicate that even after the backlash, people with bad judgment are still steering the ship.
posted by equalpants at 4:55 PM on December 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


I feel better about only ever manually updating Firefox, and nuking the pre-installed addons (Pocket, shield client, screenshots, etc) every time I do so.
posted by sysinfo at 4:56 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


And frankly, the PR-speak non-apology response is even more frightening than the original mistake

To clarify, I mean the "official" response quoted in the articles, not mhoye's comment here.
posted by equalpants at 5:00 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


LOL, yeah, it's actually more insulting that they didn't even get paid for shoving an ad for a TV show on their browser.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:02 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


[Do not attack other metafilter members.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:02 PM on December 15, 2017 [27 favorites]


Yeah, I want to be clear that I'm furious with Mozilla, but not with mhoye, and I appreciate their saying as much as they did.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:04 PM on December 15, 2017


Do I have this right? If you have experiments enabled they installed a plugin that does nothing unless you also enable it? You're already running their browser, if they want to do anything malicious they can just do the malicious thing directly in the browser you've installed.
posted by markr at 5:13 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Firefox is almost useless to me since this Quantum build broke the way extensions work and a whole bunch of the stuff that made Firefox work for me is broken in ways that probably won't ever be fixed, extension authors saying it's not possible to update because Mozilla changed a bunch of fundamental things about how extensions work.
posted by straight at 5:34 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Thanks to this I've deleted Firefox and changed to Chrome. And I hate Chrome. Everybody who signed off on this should resign.
posted by happyroach at 5:46 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


That's obvious in retrospect markr, but they made the extension deliberately look like a script kiddie wrote it. So people are annoyed at first discovering that they appear to've been hacked, and then even moreso at discovering that that was done in aid of marketing a TV show.

(And when i googled the extension i found a page that said "No changes will be made to Firefox unless you have opted in to this Alternate Reality Game" despite something having already been installed which made me concerned over their competence.)
posted by ver at 5:48 PM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


It's not often I get to feel smug about still using firefox 10 but here we are.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:53 PM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Firefox is almost useless to me since this Quantum build broke the way extensions work and a whole bunch of the stuff that made Firefox work for me is broken in ways that probably won't ever be fixed, extension authors saying it's not possible to update because Mozilla changed a bunch of fundamental things about how extensions work.

Ya, this has been infuriating. Something as simple as Mozilla Archive Format is now broken forever? Unzipping a file and rendering the contents? How is that hard?

Anyway, the worst part of this promo thing is that they seem to be doubling down:
It’s especially important to call out that this collaboration does not compromise our principles or values regarding privacy.
Wow! Terrible sentiment, and pretty bad grammar too. You mean it only compromises your principles regarding everything other than privacy? How do you know it doesn't? Try something more like:
We don't feel this compromises our principles and values with respect to privacy.

What on Earth were they thinking?

💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸💸

No man, never those Google bucks. I guess we now know they didn't get anything, but it would never have been more than 💸. Maybe for a Star Wars easter egg it could have been 💸💸..
posted by Chuckles at 6:17 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


The actual source tree for this addon lives here.

The commit logs let you know who was involved in making it happen, but unfortunately doesn't seem to indicate who signed off on this being a good idea. We can see that it's been in development since December 5th, at the latest.

There are some interesting points of "Still waiting for the word list" that were mentioned several times during the day on Dec 6th, and on Dec 8th, it appears there was at least some moderate pushback on the sketchiness of this addon; namely things like changing the magic setting from browser.display.truth to extensions.pug.lookingglass, and the name of the game from "whiterose" to "looking glass". There was also some disagreement over the inclusion of the word "fuck".

On the whole, it seems rather slap-dash. They almost allowed it to ship out with ftp:// urls affected.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:30 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you have experiments enabled they installed a plugin that does nothing unless you also enable it?

The extension was enabled automatically - it just didn't do anything. At the point where you show a sketchy unknown enabled extension in someone's extension list, you've already missed the window for opt-in and made them the butt of a prank. Many people are naturally not going to be down with their browser pranking them on any given day.

You're already running their browser, if they want to do anything malicious they can just do the malicious thing directly in the browser you've installed.

I mean, that’s what sucks about this -- 94% of people aren't running their browser. Between Quantum and net neutrality, this was a great time to push that number up. But "we used the user studies feature to prank you over a show you don't watch" steps hard on the message of a browser that respects you.
posted by john hadron collider at 6:43 PM on December 15, 2017 [30 favorites]


Portland folks, especially folks who ride bikes, may remember a bit of marketing stupidity some years ago where a local company bought space on the Max train to put up a huge sign: "Should cyclists pay a road tax?"

It was a stupid and inflammatory stunt that generated more negative backlash for the company, Webtrends, than it did interest in their products and services. Guess who signed off on it?
"What we're trying to do is take this at times fragmented discussion around taxation and bicycling and put a framework around it," said Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, WebTrends' marketing vice president.

Webtrends' ad will stay up on one MAX train all year, he said, but the company plans to tabulate responses in August and rewrap the train in October with the results of its analysis.

"It's going to be our responsibility, actually, to accurately measure the response," Kaykas-Wolff said. "Even if it's about us."
Huh. Where did Mr. Kaykas-Wolff end up after that I wonder?
Here is Mozilla’s response, courtesy of Chief Marketing Officer Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: “Firefox worked with the Mr. Robot team to create a custom experience that would surprise and delight fans of the show and our users. It’s especially important to call out that this collaboration does not compromise our principles or values regarding privacy. The experience does not collect or share any data.
The moral of this story is, if you're not sure what you want to be when you grow up, become a marketing executive. You'll always fail upward, guaranteed.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 6:47 PM on December 15, 2017 [91 favorites]


about:config > experiments.enabled > set to false

Should network.allow-experiences.enabled also be set to false?
posted by tavegyl at 7:01 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is infuriating. Avoiding crap like this is the entire reason I used Firefox. But whatever, Mozilla, throw ten years of trust out the window for your stupid marketing garbage.
posted by oulipian at 7:10 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


I understand that mhoye has said all they can, but I would really like to hear an official statement from Mozilla leadership stating that they, too, understand that this was an awful idea and how they are going to do better in the future. Please don't make me discard my decade-long respect for Mozilla and what I thought it stood for.
posted by a car full of lions at 7:18 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


The moral of this story is, if you're not sure what you want to be when you grow up, become a marketing executive.

Mozilla punches its users in the face and Kaykas-Wolff comes out with "It's a prank, bro."
posted by tclark at 7:22 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


but I would really like to hear an official statement from Mozilla leadership stating that they, too, understand that this was an awful idea and how they are going to do better in the future

That's pretty key. It's unfortunate, but the factor any tech company should really think very hard about whenever they swallow both their feet at once is answering that "how" and how they're going to demonstrate they're taking that "how" seriously. Think of how often, oh, Twitter gets caught in one of their godawful nazi-enabling-supporting fuckeries and the loudest examples get met with "we're committed to doing better" but with details very short on the how. (And in that case, tremendous amounts of bad faith, or if you're feeling generous, the appearance of bad faith.) It's probably unfair when a tech company shoots its public relations in the foot, but the context of modern interesting times means the bar for recovering for it is set higher. Or should be viewed as such, at least.
posted by Drastic at 7:47 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Given Mozilla's whole angle on things, that move was tone-deaf as hell, and we can certainly hope some appropriate heads roll.
posted by Samizdata at 8:03 PM on December 15, 2017


Bullshit PR statements annoy me. From the spokesperson quoted in the article:

“Firefox worked with the Mr. Robot team to create a custom experience that would surprise and delight fans of the show and our users.

No, you didn't. That may have been what you intended, but it's not what you did, and it's insulting to claim you did.

It’s especially important to call out that this collaboration does not compromise our principles or values regarding privacy. The experience does not collect or share any data,” Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, chief marketing officer of Mozilla, said in a statement to Gizmodo.

Allow me to introduce you to the concept of "Caesar's wife" and the need to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. This clearly appeared improper as hell to lots of people.

“The experience was kept under wraps to be introduced at the conclusion of the season of Mr. Robot. We gave Mr. Robot fans a unique mystery to solve to deepen their connection and engagement with the show and is only available in Firefox.”

Hasn't research showed that teasing things like this to build enthusiasm gets much better results than dropping something on people unannounced? I have no "connection and engagement" with the show and after this manipulative exercise am unlikely to try to develop one.

And to be petty about it, maybe try to make your statement grammatically correct ("a unique mystery to deepen their connection and engagement with the show and is only available in Firefox" should be "which is" not "and is").
posted by Lexica at 8:04 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


mhoye >

We didn't make any money off of this; it was intended as an easter egg in Firefox for fans of the show.

Meanwhile, as noted above:

“Firefox worked with the Mr. Robot team to create a custom experience that would surprise and delight fans of the show and our users.

Not to criticize mhoye in any way, but "easter egg" and "tie-in" are different things. When you collaborate with the maker of the thing you're connecting to your own thing, you're not talking about an easter egg anymore. Easter eggs are fun little surprises, inside jokes and the like, not cross-promotion of a product (no disrespect; I've heard it's a good show).

Bottom line, as I see it: they hoped people would love this, but they miscalculated, and now instead of the response being an enthusiastic viral whatever, it's a conversation about consent and judgment and, more or less, betrayal. It's like a tragically blunderous romantic gesture where you end up even further apart.
posted by clockzero at 8:23 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm a longtime Firefox user who's enjoying Quantum and who trusted Mozilla and wanted to help Mozilla collect data to improve performance, try out new ways to protect user privacy, innovate around implementing web standards, and generally run experiments for the good of the open web. So I left the studies checkbox checked. And so I had this addon installed, till I found out about it today and removed it.
Observe: Words such as 'privacy' are upside down
Indeed.

I'm leaving the studies checkbox checked, for now, because I predict that backlash like Steve Klabnik's response will keep this sort of thing from happening again anytime soon at Mozilla. But if anything along these lines happens again, I'm going to be a lot less inclined to give Mozilla the benefit of the doubt. Right now I use Firefox on the desktop and Brave on my phone. If Mozilla demonstrates that this Looking Glass misstep wasn't a fluke, if it cedes the user trust competitive advantage it holds over Chrome, then Brave starts looking way better as an everyday desktop browser.

(I worked for four years at the Wikimedia Foundation, and I can only imagine the watercooler conversation at Wikimedia/EFF/Internet Archive today.)
posted by brainwane at 8:30 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


The moral of this story is, if you're not sure what you want to be when you grow up, become a marketing executive. You'll always fail upward, guaranteed.

Unless I missed something, we don't know her actual role in either of those decisions. She could be responsible or this could just be shooting the messenger. Seems a bit mean to call her a failure on a public forum.
posted by Emily's Fist at 8:34 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I unrelatedly went into my extensions today to find out why my Tweetdeck on firefox won't play any media and found that in there. Come on guys. That's rotten.
posted by taterpie at 8:46 PM on December 15, 2017


"Surprise and delight" is an Apple-ism, one of their main internal organizing principles. Surely cargo-culted.
posted by rhizome at 8:49 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


As someone who's been following Rust for years, I'm mostly sad for the devs. Most of them had nothing to do with this and should be enjoying this moment, having kicked major technical ass with Quantum.
posted by Jpfed at 8:52 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Unless I missed something, we don't know her actual role in either of those decisions.

I suspect the Chief Marketing Officer would know about planning an its-a-prank-bro surprise on its users promoting a TV show. And I suspect a Chief Marketing Officer could've shitcanned the idea.
posted by tclark at 9:02 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


When I saw this thing in my add-ons was when I decided to switch to Waterfox for good.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:12 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Unless I missed something, we don't know her actual role in either of those decisions.

For what it's worth, she's a he. And no, we don't know that we can lay this entirely at the feet of Mr. Kaykas-Wolff, but as tclark has said, a CMO would have known and could have (arguably, should have) prevented this, assuming it was someone else's idea. And given the context I linked above this seems to be not the first time he's been knee deep in controversy because of poor judgment around a marketing decision. So if does turn out that he's at least in part responsible for this debacle, I hope it sticks this time and he's invited to spend more time with his family. This kind of marketing douchebaggery is bad enough on its own sake without it doing significant damage to an otherwise respectable company.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 9:14 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


I just think the tenor of these comments has reached pile-on territory. It was a poorly-considered marketing move and anyone would be justified in quitting using their browser over it. But the rhetoric comparing this to physical violence is over-the-top.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:21 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Privacy-conscious staff are also not amused. (I can't really say more. Please be respectful that there were humans behind this. We are to ourselves.)
posted by crysflame at 9:22 PM on December 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


I love Mr Robot, just got done watching the last episode, it was great.

The thing is, even if Firefox didn't make any money on it, that just means they were given free marketing... Ugghh! I hope the Mr Robot folks make a donation to a nonprofit in return for the free work.

"We didn't make any money off of this; it was intended as an easter egg in Firefox for fans of the show."

So, years ago, Microsoft used to have easter eggs; they were delightful things full of whimsy and fun. A flight simulator in a spreadsheet! Woot!

Then one day, the US government was like "hey guys, no more hidden code surprises added by developers under the noses of management without full code review - we run important shit on your software, and we won't buy it anymore if you keeping adding 'easter eggs'."* Then Microsoft made an announcement that there wouldn't be any more easter eggs in software.

Easter Eggs were fun! But people run web browsers for real important things, and having mystery code added to projects just isn't acceptable anymore.

Maybe companies other than Microsoft making enterprise software still do easter eggs. Hell, maybe more easter eggs showed up in their software after they promised 'no more'. But their initial announcement that they'd stop doing that shit was the right one to make.

Don't get me wrong; if you want a long scrolling list of credits on your software that isn't intuitive to find - great. But that code should be reviewed and tested with the same vigor as your outward facing features have - otherwise you're just introducing more attack surface to an ecosystem that already has way to much attack surface.

This doesn't upset me *greatly*, but I will be greatly upset if this incident isn't a wake-up call that prevents future incidents like this. And all other software projects (open or closed source) should learn this lesson from Firefox.

Finally, even though I love Mr Robot, it seems misplaced to advertise for a commercial venture (particularly without compensation); and if it is done there should be full transparency regarding it.

*They didn't say these word exactly, but something like this.
posted by el io at 9:24 PM on December 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


Sheesh, I remember a bit of hand-wringing on the Mozilla blogscene when they had an opt-in Firefox skin for the series Rome forever ago. Don't doubt that there are still plenty of people within the Moz ecosystem who are equally (maybe more) bemused or blindsided by this as the rest of us.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:40 PM on December 15, 2017


Don't doubt that there are still plenty of people within the Moz ecosystem who are equally (maybe more)

"maybe more" is a great way to put it =)
posted by crysflame at 9:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I have used firefox for years *only* because of its privacy commitment, adblocking features, and nonprofit business model, even when Chrome was faster and better overall, as a matter of principle. This is *exactly* the kind of thing that would finally push me away from Firefox--I wasn't even affected by this and I am furious.

Oh, and if you worked with the Mr. Robot team (shit, even if you didn't), it wasn't an "easter egg," it's advertising. If you didn't get paid for it, then it's just free advertising. Mozilla, please fire all the marketing leadership.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:24 PM on December 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


I love how when a company repeatedly and majorly fucks up badly in a way that makes a mockery of their previously-claimed values, there's always a few who'll pipe up to point out how it's just one minor thing, that it was just an accident or a simple misreading of their 'community' of users and, really, isn't everybody over-reacting just a little bit?

(I find that last bit particularly galling, because it's not a million miles away from the typical gutless troll who winds people up and then turns around and wonders why they're offended…).

Look, face it: Mozilla fucked up bad, and its certainly not the first time. Taking away features users want. Adding features users don't want. Failing to listen to users in either case. General all-round failing to learn from those mistakes; in fact, doubling-down and telling them 'no, you're wrong, just give it a go and you'll learn to like it' . They've done it all, they've done it repeatedly, and they're still doing it. This cock-up is just the icing on the whole fucked-up cake that has seem them go from … what was it, 70% market share to single digits now?

I've been gradually transitioning from Firefox to Safari for a while now. Yes, Safari might mean I'm swapping to Apple spying on me - but, if so, they're quite capable of doing that through the OS anyway, same as everybody else. At least by ditching Firefox for Safari as soon as 52.x.x becomes untenable, I'll be leaving behind one set of huge unnecessary hassles, not gaining any others, and not supporting yet another group who's shown little respect for their end-users opinions...
posted by Pinback at 10:37 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's not even only about privacy. For many years there's been a dynamic where FF becomes less customizable or capable in some way or another; users protest heavily; and Mozilla basically responds with "we appreciate your concerns but trust us and trust the direction we're going in."

But if that's going to be the answer then it's got to be given seriously. With humility and not hubris. Mozilla needs to make sure that users can trust its judgment, and I'm not sure how trustworthy any judgment can be that doesn't rigorously question itself and its own assumptions on a regular basis. It's so easy to become invested in your own narrative to the point where your vision is heavily skewed. You've got to have some sort of system in place where you're constantly testing against that, and enough self-doubt to understand how easy it is to fool yourself.
posted by trig at 12:41 AM on December 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


A serious breach of trust from a company that claimed to be laser-focused on privacy and user empowerment. Very disappointing.

I am using Quantum (OS X) and it's fine, even with the handful of extensions I like, but it doesn't feel much different than a slightly-snappier Firefox classic. Which is probably a good thing.

I choose to use Firefox because it's supposed to be not like the evil companies driven by addled marketing departments. So don't do this shit, Mozilla. Just don't.
posted by rokusan at 12:54 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Funnily enough, this has also given me my first negative impression of Mr Robot, about which I've only heard good things until now.

So, yeah, heck of a job there, marketing guys, tarnishing two positive images at once.
posted by rokusan at 12:56 AM on December 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


I dunno, as a fan of Mr Robot, colour me impressed that a *fictional character* can be responsible for running unauthorized code on your computer.

THAT'S a hacker!
posted by el io at 1:35 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


!!!!!!!!

After causing me a major fucking headache by requiring my own personal add-on that I wrote to be signed by them, and removing the configuration option for that completely from the auto upgrade pipeline, in opposition to a lot of feedback, and forcing me to use an ESR version unless I want my shit to break, and then telling me that this is for my own good because they are extremely serious about privacy, no really, very very serious...

all the sturm and drang over that and mozilla overriding the community by claiming the moral high ground and I am foaming at the mouth right now
posted by Horkus at 2:04 AM on December 16, 2017 [14 favorites]


Related, in various ways (for one, it's by Kaykas-Wolff, in May): Lean data: Trusted brands, financial performance, and politics

Trust isn’t just a warm fuzzy feeling. For companies that know how to add trust to their brand attributes, they can see their work show up in a graph, a trendline, and an upside in performance.

posted by chavenet at 2:23 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


we know we misjudged this and we're going to do better.

When Firefox first came out, one of its key differentiators was that it was a much smaller download than Navigator or IE that gave you just a web browser - a good one - with extension and plug-in facilities for folks who wanted to make it do more than just plain vanilla web browsing.

The drift back toward a Navigator-like everything-and-the-kitchen-sink model has absolutely been in the wrong direction.

PDF reader in my browser that still doesn't know how to print PDFs properly: did not want. Just let me integrate the system PDF reader and leave it at that.

"Pocket" cluttering up my browser toolbar: did not want. Make that an extension for those who do.

Whatever that stupid thing with the paper aeroplane icon is: did not want.
Social media extensions of any kind: do not want.
Desperate attempts to look like Chrome at the expense of customizability: did not want.
Slavish emulation of the frenzied Chrome release model: did not want.
Anything shipped as standard that relies on setting up an online account: did not want.
Stupid game marketing tie-in shipped as standard: absolutely definitely do not want under any circumstances ever.
posted by flabdablet at 2:44 AM on December 16, 2017 [29 favorites]


Well, at least they didn't download U2's latest album on everyone's computers.
posted by spheniscus at 2:45 AM on December 16, 2017 [16 favorites]


let me integrate the system PDF reader

...where by "integrate" I mean make PDF links open in the perfectly adequate and carefully chosen for good and sufficient reasons system PDF reader, not wedged into a browser tab surrounded by browser cruft. People who want to pretend that their browser is their window manager are welcome to bugger off and use Chromebooks. I do not wish to be one of them.
posted by flabdablet at 2:51 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I suppose I appreciate a firm reminder that trust is a Brand Attribute. Sometimes I forget. It feels better to imagine I live in a world where I can forget that, but I don't.
posted by theatro at 4:32 AM on December 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


On that note, the new "insanely fast" firefox isn't really. It was kind of fast for the first few hours of the upgrade, but after noscript was updated and working again I swear this shit is 10x slower than the older version w/ noscript.

Loquacious, try and see if umatrix works better for you. The principles are the same as noscript, but the UI is different.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:44 AM on December 16, 2017


Maybe companies other than Microsoft making enterprise software still do easter eggs.

There's an easter egg in the Chrome browser. When the networking fails, you can press the spacebar and play a little dinosaur running-jumping game. Easter Eggs are dramatically different from marketing tie-ins. (this particular easter egg also upset .edu staff because kids and chromebooks; which is how the rest of the world noticed the policy setting to disable the game.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:27 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


> Should network.allow-experiences.enabled also be set to false?

Tor Browser uses Firefox ESR* as its base but makes a bunch of patches and modifies preferences that are default on base Firefox to more privacy-friendly values. TB is currently based on ESR 52 and apparently just that one pref is enough to disable experiments.

However, Mozilla recently made telemetry opt-out rather than opt-in by default for their stable releases (and mandatory for the beta and other pre-release versions). As I understand it, telemetry being on by itself doesn't permit this sort of stunt, it's the experiments based prefs that control it but if you want to play it safe, disable all these:

toolkit.telemetry.enabled
toolkit.telemetry.unified
experiments.supported
network.allow-experiments


Above list taken from this user.js.


> Thanks to this I've deleted Firefox and changed to Chrome. And I hate Chrome. Everybody who signed off on this should resign.

Chrome also run experiments, it's just that so far they didn't do something as asinine as visibly making your browser look like it was hijacked by the mob's cybercrime division. People rightfully pissed off about this would gain nothing by switching to it.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:31 AM on December 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


Has Chrome run a third-party marketing tie-in? I don't believe so. I opted into Mozilla studies, so I'm not upset about experiments run in the browser. I'm upset about marketing campaigns run in the browser.
posted by gilrain at 7:37 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I think I understand you guys, but then I read this thread and realize you might as well be aliens. At least aside from people who had auto update disabled. I'd be pretty annoyed if my browser that was explicitly configured to not auto update downloaded new code without my consent, but otherwise that's precisely what I signed up for.

Maybe I'll get it after reading the thread again.
posted by wierdo at 7:42 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's milkshake ducks all the way down...
posted by mikelieman at 8:09 AM on December 16, 2017


I dunno, wierdo, I don't think people who enabled automatic updates to the browser were asking for it, especially not asking for marketing cruft to be automatically added to their browsers. I think this runs counter to the normal set of assumptions someone might have when they enable automatic updates so a program stays safe.
posted by limeonaire at 8:19 AM on December 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


So, has anyone dug into what this thing is supposed to have done under the "intended" circumstances? Was it supposed to turn on at a specific time or something? I saw reference to text replacement, or some kind of visual glitch?

I'd be really interested in what that "fun" user experience was supposed to be exactly, because for me, I use my browser for actual work, you know.
posted by odinsdream at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2017


I'd be really interested in what that "fun" user experience was supposed to be exactly

It really doesn't do a whole lot. After installation, if the user sets extensions.pug.lookingglass to true, then any word on the wordlist gets visually flipped over with CSS tricks for a few seconds, and a hover tooltip gets added.

There's also a link to a couple of sites run by NBC Universal, where if the setting was enabled, the browser would then send a new HTTP Header ("X-1057") which presumably enabled some layer of the "game".
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 8:33 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Taking mhoye's word for it that this was nothing more than a badly designed easter egg, and putting it into the context of the last big privacy snafu on the part of Firefox, I get the sense that Mozilla has started to think of themselves as exceptional in the browser (and maybe tech more generally) space: because they are a non-profit that (sort-of) doesn't get their money from ads and makes a big deal about privacy, they believe they are above the self-interested actions of other companies and thus have a hard time understanding when their users don't understand when their well-intentioned actions come off as deceptive at worst or tone-deaf at best.

If Mozilla wants to regain and keep users trust, they need to understand that they don't get a free pass for good intentions. People are going to (and should) evaluate their practices the same way they evaluate Google/Microsoft/Apple's practices. More generally, Mozilla needs to make sure they have a clear understanding of why users trust them and use their products and where their organizational incentives (in particular their recent quest for better recommendations) are in conflict with those reasons.
posted by ropeladder at 9:23 AM on December 16, 2017 [10 favorites]


Status bar: did want.
Reader mode: did not want. Should have been an extension.
Hiding http: prefix in URLs: really did not want.
Search bar folded into address bar: really really did not want.
Opt-out advertising on New Tab page: DID NOT WANT
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 AM on December 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


Sounds like at least one sysadmin (and a bunch of students taking a certification test) had a Really Fun Day as a result of this stunt.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:03 AM on December 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


Seriously stories exactly like that are bound to crop up everywhere. People don't just use browsers for fun. Browsers are tools, in libraries, secure environments, "embedded" in kiosks. What the fuck were they thinking?
posted by odinsdream at 11:22 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


So what other options are there? I've been wanting to move away from chrome, basically because of both Google and the fact I'd much prefer a leaner browser. Firefox isn't the tiny and wonderful browser only that I remembered and which flabdablet described above and isn't exactly engendering trust either with this stupid shit.

So what is the small, open source, extensible browser these days? Does it exist?
posted by deadwax at 1:15 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


So what is the small, open source, extensible browser these days? Does it exist?

Waterfox? I haven't used it, but I've heard it mentioned as an alternative.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:43 PM on December 16, 2017


I used Pale Moon for a while and it was pretty good. I kinda drifted away from it so I'm not up to speed on any recent developments or dramas involved with it.
posted by glonous keming at 6:07 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm pleased with Waterfox. It's Firefox 56 look/feel/functionality with stuff like telemetry removed and kept up to date on security fixes.

There's concerns about viability for it ongoing, but for now, I'm happy with it.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:07 PM on December 16, 2017


"Mozilla backpedals after Mr. Robot-Firefox misstep" (cnet):
"Suffice to say, we've learned a good deal in the last 24 hours ... Although we always have the best intentions, not everything that we try works as we want," said Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla's chief marketing officer. "Within hours of receiving feedback," Mozilla moved Looking Glass to its Firefox add-on store, where people will be able to get it if they want it as it becomes available this weekend.
Let's see how long it will take to get some communication actually targeted at the users and not just PR crisis mumbling to journalists. Ideally, instead of a vague apology, a post-mortem what went wrong technically and organizationally, and what steps will be implemented to ensure that these kinds of screw-ups will not happen again.
posted by ltl at 3:50 AM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Suffice to say, we've learned a good deal in the last 24 hours...
...so we're confident our marketing add-on experience for the new 24 series announcement will really surprise and delight our users!
posted by Drastic at 8:54 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


> Mozilla distributed the extension only to people in the United States, the organization said, adding that it checked the extension to make sure it didn't collect any user data.

I'm in the UK and i got it, this whole thing seems very poorly done.
posted by ver at 10:17 AM on December 17, 2017


ropeladder: "They believe they are above the self-interested actions of other companies and thus have a hard time understanding [...] when their well-intentioned actions come off as deceptive at worst or tone-deaf at best. If Mozilla wants to regain and keep users trust, they need to understand that they don't get a free pass for good intentions.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla's chief marketing officer: "Although we always have the best intentions, not everything that we try works as we want." (emphasis mine)

Nailed.
posted by glonous keming at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


MOZILLA
Over the last couple of years we've implemented a new extension protocol which will ensure our users can be guaranteed greater safety and security. This does mean that some existing beloved extensions fall outside of the stringent boundaries of our new API, but we hope that our record of protecting users' privacy makes us your browser of choice.

MOZILLA MARKETING
It would be fun to prank security conscious users by fucking with their browsing experience under the guise of "an experiment" (advertising) into which they've already automatically opted. No harm no foul.

USERS
Harm.
Mozilla have clearly overstepped the bounds of what the "experiments" should be. Amazingly, although I turned off that setting when I first downloaded the developer edition in November, that extension still exists and I have no way of removing it. It's ghosted, so I'm assuming it's not working, but that's not completely clear. It's malware.

I'm a developer who uses FF as his primary tool, and will continue using it once I've reinstalled it.

I have no problem with the whole marketing team being fired. With fucking prejudice.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:16 AM on December 17, 2017 [11 favorites]


I'm also curious why they think all FF users are fans of the show. LET'S SPAM EVERYONE!
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:22 AM on December 17, 2017


Part of advertising is to create fans.
posted by rhizome at 11:24 AM on December 17, 2017


Ideally, instead of a vague apology, a post-mortem what went wrong technically and organizationally, and what steps will be implemented to ensure that these kinds of screw-ups will not happen again.

This should not have happened in the first place to require a post-mortem.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:25 AM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I would think it's because tech bros myopically think their experience of the world is everyone's. See for example "we thought it would be fun (because I think this would be fun and cannot imagine any other scenario)" and "we always have the best intentions (because we are literally incapable of imagining why that wouldn't be the case, even as a mental exercise)" and the bullshit whining about "we tried but everyone else didn't GET IT, MAN"
posted by odinsdream at 11:30 AM on December 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


But that's like looking at Gerald Ratner as to how to advertise a brand.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:39 AM on December 17, 2017


"I would think it's because tech bros myopically think their experience of the world is everyone's."
Yeah, but so what? That might explain it, but it certainly doesn't excuse it.

(The biggest dirty trick of PR damage control is getting people to conflate the two, so they will accept a semi-plausible post facto explanation as an excuse. Or even mistake it for an apology…)
posted by Pinback at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2017


Was it not clear that odinsdream wasn't making the slightest attempt to excuse Mozilla's behavior? What's your point?
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:48 PM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


> Mozilla distributed the extension only to people in the United States, the organization said ...

I'm in the UK and i got it


I suspect that "distributed the extension only to people in the United States" might be what Marketing thinks "bundled the extension only with the English (US) version" means.
posted by flabdablet at 8:07 PM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


People rightfully pissed off about this would gain nothing by switching to it.

Look the only way Mozilla is doing to learn not to pull this crap is if it hurts their market penetration.

Complaints won't get the marketing idiots fired, reviews or measured commentary won't get them to understand. What will get the point across is if their market share goes down a couple percentage points. So the only real recourse we have as consumers is to uninstall Firefox and switch to another browser.
posted by happyroach at 11:00 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ideally, instead of a vague apology, a post-mortem what went wrong technically and organizationally, and what steps will be implemented to ensure that these kinds of screw-ups will not happen again.

We are doing a post mortem; I'm not in that room, though, and I don't know how much of it if any I'll be able to share.

Again, I'm sorry for this.
posted by mhoye at 12:43 PM on December 18, 2017 [7 favorites]


> Look the only way Mozilla is doing to learn not to pull this crap is if it hurts their market penetration.

I actually have a visceral hatred for ads big enough for me to consider that option and would go through with it if the alternatives weren't all worse.

As annoying as having a marketing extension force installed would have been (I had opted out of studies so I didn't get it), I'd rather that than giving Google even more of my data.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2017


Update: Looking Glass Add-on.
posted by Nelson at 3:31 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


What the actual fuck does this mean:
How we got here
Over the course of the year Firefox has enjoyed a growing relationship with the Mr. Robot television show and, as part of this relationship, we developed an unpaid collaboration...
I mean I'm still seriously confused by what the goddamn hell this random-ass crap TV show has to do with Firefox.
posted by odinsdream at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


Archer (2009) did gamification so much better.
posted by mikelieman at 3:42 PM on December 18, 2017


Nelson has the link, but the last paragraph of that release is:
"We’re doing a post-mortem and are going to make changes to our processes. These will be public and we will link to a public list of process changes, likely mid-January."
posted by mhoye at 5:48 PM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


We didn’t think hard enough about how our actions would affect the community, and we’re sorry for letting you down.
See, here's the thing. This should not have been a decision requiring careful consideration. This is something that would have just been instinctively Noped by anybody whose fundamental values had not been hollowed out by working in marketing.

If you have ever entertained the notion that somebody might actually enjoy having advertising foisted upon them, you should not be involved in decisions affecting the release of open source software.
posted by flabdablet at 6:11 PM on December 18, 2017 [10 favorites]


Also: if you actually want Firefox to regain the dominant position it once held in the browser space, you will stop fucking about with marketing and partner agreements and promotions and new fucking logos and all the other psychological manipulation bullshit and just release a browser that (a) always works better than Chrome (b) is more easily tweakable and extensible than Chrome and (c) conspicuously puts nothing in the standard browser installer package but the browser. No Pocket, no social media shit, no Mozilla Account, telemetry off by default, nothing to lock its users into any other service or facility. Your standard release should be a browser that Richard Stallman would happily endorse.

People dumped Firefox for Chrome because Chrome was faster and didn't leak memory. End of. Now that Mozilla has Rust expertise, Mozilla has a chance to play the other side of that game. Just take it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:23 PM on December 18, 2017 [10 favorites]


At the very least, there ought to be a Firefox Core release available that has all the extras you ever had to consider whether or not to bundle not bundled.

My confident prediction is that if this existed, its popularity would rapidly overtake that of the standard release.
posted by flabdablet at 12:30 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


But what would you call it?

I mean, all the good names have been taken by BIOS and database companies…

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
posted by Pinback at 1:08 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm in the Netherlands and I'm almost angrier about that "Mozilla distributed the extension only to people in the United States" statement than about the whole thing itself. It shows that they either really don't care (because otherwise just a small amount of research would show that this is simply not true) or are, sadly, not competent. And that's kind of worrying. Normally I would immediately assume that of course the second part of that sentence "adding that it checked the extension to make sure it didn't collect any user data." was of course true. The extension was a dumb idea, but I still trusted their general competence and trustworthiness. But now I'm not even sure about that, because the first part of the sentence is clearly obviously not true either.

If they really did think "lives in the US" and "has en-US browser version" are the same thing that's worrying. I never consciously downloaded the US version. It was just the default when I went to download Firefox. I just checked and there are only three English versions of Firefox: British, South African and US. This statement about US users made me go from "stupid mishap, but I assume they have learned from it" to wondering about competence.

And not just technical competence. I thought I'd check Mozilla's "about us" page and saw this on the marketing officer's bio: Jascha believes in two key principles: Find opportunities where no one else is looking; And, never fail the same way twice. It’s a methodology centered around Agile marketing practices and marketing technology. Never fail the same way twice. That's a great motto for a student or, company making fun widgets that nobody needs, but terrible for an organization like Mozilla. And I'm stunned that the other executives apparently don't see that, that it's on their website as if fail fast, fail often is not a terrible idea if you are "A corporation that serves the public good. Seriously." A web browser is an essential tool for people. Failing should not be encouraged. This whole "never fail the same way twice" thing makes it seem like they have no clue that they are making a product that people depend on and about how important security is. Speaking of which: I note that in the 16 person Mozilla Corporation Management Team, there is a Marketing Officer and a VP of Brand Engagement, but no Security Officer and no Data Protection and Privacy Director.
posted by blub at 1:43 AM on December 19, 2017 [10 favorites]


never fail the same way twice
...
in the 16 person Mozilla Corporation Management Team, there is a Marketing Officer and a VP of Brand Engagement, but no Security Officer and no Data Protection and Privacy Director


To be fair, letting the marketing pigeons drive the bus has in fact not failed the same way twice. It's more like 2000000 times.
posted by flabdablet at 4:18 AM on December 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


But what would you call it?

Frfx.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:10 AM on December 19, 2017


Firefox Original Recipe.

And yea, everyone would use it instead of the "enriched" version because LITERALLY NOBODY LIKES HAVING BULLSHIT INCLUDED THAT THEY COULD INSTALL THEMSELVES.

Discontinue the marketing department.
posted by odinsdream at 8:37 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Is Waterfox really a viable option? I downgraded to FF 52 ESR after the Quantum clusterfuck, figuring I would give it 6-8 months for things to settle down and NoScript to improve its ghastly new UI but now I'm wondering if I'm done with FF for good.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:58 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't know what you see as viable. But I personally consider Waterfox to be ready for prime time, for normal users. In other words, it's my new best friend.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2017


werkzeuger, I suppose one tack would to not think of it as a clusterfuck. FF users have had a really decent ride in terms of the extensions that have been made for them over the years. The XUL framework had a very large accomodating API but with that came a greater attack surface that became less and less viable for the future of a browser that prides itself on privacy and security (sadly not amusing at the moment).

It's been about 18-24 months since Mozilla announced the project to constrain add-ons to the new web extension API. On the whole that's almost two years that developers have had the opportunity to get their ducks in a row. For a lot of developers it simply wasn't possible; the limited new API just didn't have the scope to allow them to recreate their extensions. For others they just couldn't be arsed to learn something new (DownloadThemAll) and just had a hissy fit and went home. For others (Lastpass, I'm looking at you) their solution is just so inept to be unusable, and they've been overtaken by new kids on the block that have proved you can work within the constraints and have a workable viable product at the end. I moved from Lastpass when I realised they were going to make a hash of it and found a very good alternative solutions (KeepassXC if you're asking).

Personally, and I have no stake in the future of FF except I hope it learns from this dumb mistake, I think you should stick with it. I really like it. And if you're looking for a NoScript alternative perhaps give UMatrix a spin. It's a little different in terms of the interface, but it works more or less the same.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:01 PM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm in the UK and i got it

I suspect that "distributed the extension only to people in the United States" might be what Marketing thinks "bundled the extension only with the English (US) version" means.


Yup. I got it in Japan. US English Firefox.
posted by rokusan at 5:32 AM on December 20, 2017


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