Mozilla On The DOJ’s Google Suit, Why It’s Not In The W3C’s Web Advertising Business Group And ‘Unfcking’ The Internet

Mozilla CMO Lindsey Shepard & Firefox CTO Eric Rescorla

In October, Mozilla, the nonprofit organization behind the Firefox browser, launched a marketing campaign to “unfck the internet,” because, well, the system is a little “fcked up,” said Lindsey Shepard, Mozilla’s CMO.

“People are constantly being inundated with messages about complex topics, from data breaches to hacking, and a lot of big tech companies are out there with messages like, ‘We care about your privacy’ and ‘We’re here for you,’” Shepard said. “It’s hard to know who to trust.”

Mozilla’s campaign shares tips that people can use to have more control over their internet experience, she said, including by downloading privacy-protecting extensions and learning about independent technology solutions that aren’t developed by the big tech platforms. (They do exist.)

In light of the election, and as part of its campaign, Mozilla has also been lobbying for the big social platforms to make adjustments to their services. Mozilla has been calling for Twitter to address its Trending Topics tool and for Facebook to halt algorithmic political group recommendations. On Friday, Facebook suspended that feature.

AdExchanger caught up with Shepard and Eric Rescorla, Mozilla’s chief technology officer, for a few hot takes on the challenge of consumer education, the Justice Department’s Google antitrust case and why Mozilla isn’t a member of the W3C’s Improving Web Advertising Business Group – at least not yet.

On the DOJ’s antitrust suit against Google

SHEPARD: “Without question, we think this type of scrutiny is healthy and critical to protecting internet users. We want people to learn about the influence of big tech and the impact that these systems have on their lives. But, the reality is, and we all know this, that the whole onus can’t be on regulators and policymakers to fix this. If there’s going to be material change, people need to take action on their own.”

On giving consumers transparency and choice without overwhelming them

SHEPARD: “A lot of the choice being offered to people is choice theater. No one reads ToC updates, and most consent interstitials you see just want to get people to click through as quickly as possible. That isn’t real choice. Real choice comes when you have a foundational understanding of what you’re dealing with.

“The system is complex, but the fact is that people don’t need to understand exactly how things work technically as long as they understand the basics. How not to overwhelm people with information, though – that is the million-dollar question. It’s our responsibility to try and make it as easy as possible for people to protect themselves online.”

ERIC RESCORLA: “We always have that in mind when we design our products.”

On Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP), Firefox’s default anti-tracking technology

RESCORLA: “It’s not ideal, but you can think of this as an arms race. We’ve done a bunch of things to suppress what we believe are the most obvious and egregious forms of tracking, but we find that once those forms of tracking are suppressed, trackers find other ways to track.

“We rolled out ETP Level 2 in August, which protects against redirect tracking. That happens when users are momentarily redirected to a tracking site so that the tracker looks like it’s in a first-party context. And we also do a fair amount of fingerprint blocking. We already block third-party cookies by default. We expect to continue this work of seeing what trackers do and attempting to block it. We find that most people are not aware that these things are even happening.”

On independent ad tech

SHEPARD: “I’ve been a marketer for decades and so I understand the importance of these companies and that a lot of small businesses benefit from them. This is an important part of the system and the economy. The thing I take issue with simply is that people don’t know what’s happening. I’m totally fine with folks making the decision to trade their data for conveniences – it happens every day. We just want people to make more educated decisions.”

On Mozilla’s marketing campaign to “unfck the internet”

SHEPARD: “We’re highlighting the tools we have at Mozilla, but our KPIs are bigger than that. We want to address the system. The first iteration of the campaign led folks to an action page that walks them through easy things they can do to start to ‘unfck’ the system, like using our extension for reporting the political ads you see and our Facebook Container extension that prevents Facebook from tracking you once you leave their platform.

“It’s great that regulators are looking at the big guys, but when the billions of people who use the internet educate themselves about it – that will be what actually forces real, positive change.”

On participation in the W3C

RESCORLA: “We’re very invested in the W3C and do a lot of work there. For example, we have a member on the Advisory Board. But there are a variety of different types of groups within the W3C structure. There are business groups, interest groups and community groups, and none of these produce standards. They’re discussion forums that you join as an individual.

“We elected not to join the Improving Web Advertising Business Group at this time, because we think it makes more sense right now to take a wait-and-see attitude about what comes out of it. We’re a little concerned that us joining could be seen as an endorsement of things we don’t necessarily think are a good idea.

“But if any of these proposals become standards efforts, we’ll likely get involved.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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