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19th of January 2018

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Mozilla Pulls Mr. Robot Add-On From Firefox Amid Blowback - ExtremeTech

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When Mozilla released Firefox Quantum earlier this year, I installed it and gave some thought as to whether I’d allow Firefox “Studies” to take place. They seemed reasonable, but I ultimately decided not to. Now, I’m glad I did. According to multiple reports, Firefox chose to seed various users with a Mr. Robot-themed AR game that inverted some text in-browser. While Mozilla has pulled the plugin and apologized, the foundation has taken some heat for its actions.

The company released a note in response to baffled users on Reddit, who thought they’d found some kind of malware package.

According to Mozilla, this Mr. Robot-themed add-on was an attempt to cater to passionate fans of a game related to the show, as opposed to a commercial deal, but the organization couldn’t have handled the optics worse. The foundation writes that Firefox and Mr. Robot “have collaborated on a shared experience to further your immersion into the Mr Robot universe, also known as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). The effects you’re seeing are a part of this shared experience.”

It goes on, since apparently Mozilla doesn’t swallow its own feet by half measures.

The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security. One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla’s mission is that individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy.

Mozilla exists to build the Internet as a public resource accessible to all because we believe open and free is better than closed and controlled. We build products like Firefox to give people more control over their lives online.

Translation: “We built a browser founded on themes of security and privacy, and what better way to demonstrate how flimsy these principles are on the modern internet than by showing you we can’t be trusted!”

Compare the above with the definition of a Shield Study from Mozilla’s own website:

Shield Studies is a function of the Shield project that prompts a random population of users to help us try out new products, features, and ideas… Individual studies can be opt-out or opt-in and any and all data being collected will be declared openly. After confirming willingness to participation, a self expiring add-on will be installed on the user’s machine. At the end of the study period, the add-on will expire and return the user’s system to the previous state.

There’s a galaxy of difference between opting into a foundation-approved UI or tool test, carried out only by explicit opt-in permission, in which the the study is only installed after confirming willingness to participate, and what we have here, which has every indication of a co-marketing campaign with a TV show. And honestly, that’s the only thing that makes the slightest bit of sense. “Guys, we needed money,” isn’t a great defense, but it’s better than “We randomly thought we’d include something that looks like a co-marketing campaign without getting anyone’s permission or any money.”

Luckily, Mozilla has chalked it up to a “learning experience,” the 2017 corporate equivalent of “thoughts and prayers.” “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.

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