Mozilla Launches Free Ad Blocker for iOS 9

Mozilla on Monday launched Focus by Firefox, a free ad blocker for Safari users on iOS 9.

It lets users block the same trackers blocked by Private Browsing with Tracking Protection in Firefox for the Windows, Mac, Linux and Android platforms. The protection is based onDisconnect’s open source block list.

Focus by Firefox doesn’t work with Firefox for iOS because Apple doesn’t make content blocking available to third-party browsers on iOS, Mozilla said. It’s exploring ways to provide Focus on Firefox for iOS.

“Presumably this will provide iPhone users with more privacy,” said Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan.

The Basis of Focus for Firefox

Focus is based on Mozilla’s three content-blocking principles: content neutrality, transparency and control, and openness.

Content neutrality means content-blocking software should focus on addressing potential user needs, such as performance, security and privacy, instead of blocking specific content types, such as ads, the company said.

Content-blocking software should provide users with transparency and meaningful controls over the needs it’s trying to address, Mozilla said.

When it comes to openness, content blocking should maintain a level playing field and block content under the same principles, regardless of its source. Content providers should be given ways to participate in an open Web ecosystem, the company contended, rather than being placed in a permanent penalty box that shuts off the Web to their products and services.

“Some ad blockers promote a scorched-earth strategy of denying every advertiser’s content regardless of whether it’s an annoying pop-up or a personally tailored advertisement,” observed Alan McQuinn, a research assistant at theInformation Technology & Innovation Foundation.

That “can seriously damage an online content creator’s revenue stream,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

A Matter of Trust

Focus aims to help create and maintain trust among Internet users, whose lack of meaningful controls over their digital lives has eroded their trust, Mozilla said. Much of the loss of control comes from the erosion of privacy caused by tracking consumers in their movements across the Web.

Tracking is the collection of data regarding a user’s activity across multiple websites or applications not owned by the data collector, and retaining, using or sharing that data, according to Disconnect. That definition doesn’t apply to data that’s immediately aggregated or where there’s a first-party relationship with the user.

With Focus, “direct ad revenue would still be protected, but downstream or upstream tracking would be limited to that known and approved by the user,” Frost’s Jude told the E-Commerce Times.

“There are many cases where a user might want [tracking] to be enabled, and if a user enabled tracking, then they would, in a sense, self-qualify themselves as a lead,” he added.

The Impact of Focus

Focus “won’t impact Apple much,” Jude suggested, as it “seems to be trying to manage this as a value add for Safari.”

Mozilla might benefit from the use of Focus, because “browsers are about numbers. The higher the number of users, the better the advertising value,” he pointed out. “So Mozilla becomes a more private experience and the ads, although not tracked, will be more valuable.”

Advertisers “are willing to pay more to advertise to individuals who are more likely to be interested in their products,” the ITIF’s McQuinn said.

“In this system, everyone generally wins,” he continued. “Ad-supported websites increase their revenue, users receive fewer irrelevant ads and more free content, and advertisers get to be in front of their target audiences.”

“The Mozilla Focus ad blocker is free and it claims to improve performance, so that’s a win-win for users,” said Laura DiDio, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

“It can also reduce mobile data usage,” she told the E-Commerce Times, “so it’s all good.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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