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back to article Mozilla ponders blinkers for your browser

Mozilla Labs has outlined an experiment it's conducting in improving the personalisation web publishers can offer readers who browse their sites using Firefox. The outfit says it's been working on the idea since last year, when it “conducted a series of experiments in which a user’s browsing history could be matched with …

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Anonymous Coward

So basically, it's 'targeted advertising'. Only for content. Only it'll probably still end up mostly used for advertising.

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Done properly, it might actually be quite good. I recall reading a science fiction book ages ago which mentioned something similar - the subscribers "news service" gave them stories about topics they were interested in and a smattering of other stuff that they might be interested in, rather than present them with everything.

Strange as it may seem, the Daily Mail might be a good place to implement it as their stories can easily be categorised/tagged:

Kardashian clan

Royal Baby (admittedly only recently)

Various celebs being "brave" by not putting on makeup

Nature photography (usually excellent, btw)

Immigration

Helen Flannagan's boobies

...

Couple it with the ability to "downvote" topics so that as they keep getting presented to you, you can make it less likely that this topic is presented to you again.

At least in this way the targeting is giving me something I want. With ads I never want to click on any of them, irrespective of the targeting (which is why I use Ad-Block & Ghostery).

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@JetSetJim

In Arthur C Clarke's "The Fountains of Paradise" he mentions a news service like you mention.

Apparently some people would set up spoof search terms like "Circle - Squaring Of" or even "World - End Of"!

See http://www.e-book2u.org/sf/Clarke08/30299.html for details :-)

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Re: @JetSetJim

That's the one - ta, it was bugging me

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No

The problem with this kind of idea is that you eventually get herded into a dead end when it narrows down your interests. I prefer the serendipitous nature of random online discoveries.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No

I agree, targeted advertising never seems to address what I'm interested in. Take Amazon for example, they seem to target me with products that I have.

Though if you are into weird ads http://tinyurl.com/nqm7u6u

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No

It used to be the case that Amazon had a reasonable recommendation system that actually produced useful results for 'people who liked x also liked y' type queries. Unfortunately, as time goes on the system has 'overtrained' somewhat and narrows everything down into tiny little closed graphs... people who like musician 'x' are now only recommended to buy everything else by 'x', and so on.

Gathering more information (as Mozilla is offering here) won't help much if you can't use it effectively, and so far there's precious little evidence that anyone can.

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Re: No

Agreed, I prefer to be able to find stuff by accident. That said, some recommendation systems (such as Google's YouTube algorithms) are superb. Not the kind of thing you can likely replicate in a browser though.

Fortunately, this is Mozzy, so there'll be an off switch.

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Trollface

Re: No

"Fortunately, this is Mozzy, so there'll be an off switch."

Like there is for JavaScript?

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Re: No

"targeted advertising never seems to address what I'm interested in"

Around xmas of 2011 my kitchen sink/tap broke. While I was waiting for the landlord to get someone in to fix I idly looked up what was involved to fix it, taking around 25 minutes over a couple of sites. As far as I can remember I have never looked up similar things before or since.

I still get tons of ads for kitchen hardware and spares 18 months later.

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Gav

Re: No

No, the main problem is that you are unconditionally giving the website information, in the hope that they *may* use that information to better serve you, rather than themselves.

Care to guess whose interests they'll look after first?

How often do you go into a shop and tell them exactly what the best price another shop was prepared to offer you, *before* you've asked what *their* best price is? Never, because that puts the shop in the position of knowing more than you. If they were going to offer it £20 cheaper they can now offer it £10 cheaper and still get the sale. The information you just gave them cost you £10.

Well this is the browser equivalent. You're telling every retail website what price you've seen elsewhere before they present their price.

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Re: No

Like there is for JavaScript?

Edit > Preferences > Content > Enable Javascript

Did I miss something?

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Re: No

"Like there is for JavaScript?"

Ker-blam: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/quickjs/

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Re: No

"Did I miss something?"

Yes you did. FF23 removes this setting for some reason or another.

(https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=873709)

Seems like a dick move to me, but there are plenty of add-ons to overcome it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No

Speaking of serendipity, back before I was using AdBlock I remember once seeing a text ad in Gmail that was obviously somewhat randomly generated in a targeted sort of way. It went something like: Glory holes? You can find what your looking for at Amazon.com!

[Anon. for obvious reasons]

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Meh

We're sorry

This website requires that you have cookies blinkers enabled. Someone convince me this would never happen. Please.

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The path to information discovery

can be more enlightening than the discovery itself.

Please leave me alone to stumble across those nuggets of information that I didn't know were there.

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Re: The path to information discovery

Ah, the good old days of trying to click link after link trying to find the end of the Internet...

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Am I the only one who thinks the web is not purely about advertising?

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Coat

Sorry?

That is what the web is for isn't it?

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Happy

Re: Sorry?

Not according to Avenue Q...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-TA57L0kuc

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Anonymous Coward

Half of it is...

"Am I the only one who thinks the web is not purely about advertising?"

... the other half of the web is for pr0n...

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God bless his little Royal Highness!

Personally, I welcome any news about the birth of George Alexander Louis. One can never have enough royal news, especially in this neck of the woods. If nothing else, it sustains the economy through the sales of women's magazines.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

Time for the UK to become a republic

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Anonymous Coward

Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

Hell now. Have you see the shite they have for womens' magazines in the states? Makes ours look like War and Peace in comparison.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

I thank the Daily Mail readers for my republic downvotes, it surprises you can read as I always thought you only looked at glossy magazine pictures.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

The real question is why would they bother reading the words of someone who can't coherently form a sentence, and who thinks Britain would be better served by "President Blair" / "President Cameron" / "President Clegg" <- That one is so good :-D

What about "President Prescot" / "President Gove" / "President Osbourne" / "President Harman"... Can you imagine? ... OR How about the Dark Lord himself "President Mandelson"

Our Monarchy may not be perfect, but the alternatives all look amazingly bad.

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Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

"Our Monarchy may not be perfect, but the alternatives all look amazingly bad."

I'm waiting on the publication of the "black spider memos" before I evaluate that assertion.

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Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

The real question is why would they bother reading the words of someone who can't coherently form a sentence, and who thinks Britain would be better served by "President Blair" / "President Cameron" / "President Clegg" <- That one is so good :-D

I hear this rather odd objection every time I argue with someone over the royals. Are you allergic to the word "president" or something? Does it physically hurt you to read it? Why not, then, keep on calling them a Prime Minister, and just ditch the pointless monarchy part?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

I hear this rather odd objection every time I argue with someone over the royals.

Do you, how interesting.

Are you allergic to the word "president" or something? Does it physically hurt you to read it? Why not, then, keep on calling them a Prime Minister, and just ditch the pointless monarchy part?

Nope none of that, just an observation about someone who creates sentences such as the following:

I thank the Daily Mail readers for my republic downvotes, it surprises you can read as I always thought you only looked at glossy magazine pictures

Really isn't in any kind of position to criticise the outpurings of others, Daily Fail readers or not.

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Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

We do a Jury service one on it - you get called up you do the job - and like jury service if you have any power beyond being a citizen you wriggle out of it and good bloody riddance.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

Yes I propose we start by calling up Nick Griffin. Then maybe you can have your turn?

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Re: God bless his little Royal Highness!

@obnoxiousGit

Amazingly bad the alternatives may be, but they are at least temporary and not entitled to huge amounts of cash at our expense. You can bow and scrape as much as you want. I'd like to live in a free and fair society where anyone can aspire to the top of the social pyramid.

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Unless it is OFF by default

then sadly I'll have to say goodbye to Firefox, it has been nice knowing you.

Any advert served to me is a sure fire way to make me NOT BUY ANYTHING from that company EVER.

The same applies to any Fast food flyers shoved through my letterbox.

(If I could only get Virgin Media to stop sending stuff addressed to 'The Householder', I'd be very happy)

Yeah, I don't like Adverts. Thank god for the skip forward 2 mins button on my PVR. (the same goes for Adblock-Plus etc)

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Re: Unless it is OFF by default

"(If I could only get Virgin Media to stop sending stuff addressed to 'The Householder', I'd be very happy)"

It's worse than that if you're a subscriber. They increases everyone's charges last year, so they could fund a campaign to repeatedly send you junk mail trying to get you to buy a mobile from them.

And their on-demand TV service only works about 60% of the time. And the majority of channels you pay through the nose for are full of adverts and you don't want them anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Mozilla = Google

Don't think so Mozilla unless you want a market share somewhere near 1%.

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Re: Mozilla = Google

So you'd move away from Firefox to Chrome because of fears over advertising...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mozilla = Google

"So you'd move away from Firefox to Chrome because of fears over advertising..."

Nope.

Konqueror, Chromium or recompiled to remove the crap. Not everyone is a Windows numpty who knows nothing other than pre-compiled binaries.

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Meh

Browsing history

"Browsing history could be matched with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking"

Yeah.... My browsing history doesn't really cover categories like that. Who knows what kind of stuff it would recommend with El Reg in my browsing history.

You click on one dodgy video on YouTube and suddenly you're getting all sorts of crap "Recommended for you" that you don't want. I fully expect this technology to function in the same way.

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IT Angle

Re: Browsing history

Sorry, thought you said "doggy video"...

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Big Brother

Re: Browsing history

We see that you're interested in doggy videos. We think you'll also like the following:

- cat videos

- more cat videos

- dogging videos

...

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Hmm

This might just turn out be the ruination of the Internet.

If you listen to an all request afternoon show on one of the ultra-bland "local" radio stations (that somehow manage all to sound the same wherever you go) you will quickly become bored. But if you listen to Six Music (assuming you can get a digital signal), they actually play interesting stuff. I might not like every single record they play, but the bad ones make the good ones sound better.

Most of the fun of the Internet is discovering stuff by accident that you didn't know you were looking for. Trying to second-guess users like this is going to remove this. Still, if it gets people away from their computers and out into the big blue room, it might not be such a bad thing, really .....

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Anonymous Coward

There was an argument against the sites like wikipedia that they weren't as good as a paper encyclopaedia because you'd always find exactly what you were after straight away, with none of the serendipitous stuff you find while flicking through a book.

Of course we now know that you find all kinds of odd stuff while looking for something else entirely, following obscure links all over the place and can waste hours doing it. Often mind bleach is required afterwards.

Having a browser tell a site what you are interested in might well highlight what you are interested in - but on the down side how would I know what I'm not being shown? As an extreme example, all I'd be shown is more of what I already know. Fine for Daily Mail readers, but some of us like to be told new things.

Google does this already - my search results could be different from yours with the same search terms based on past searches. It's useful, but could just reinforce my prejudices. (Except that I don't log in to Google and use Duck-Duck-Go anyway).

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No.

My browsing history is mine. Not intended for some random website to peruse should they so choose.

As has been already said in comments before this one, targeted advertising is crap and about the only useful is the non-targeted which can on occasion lead you to find something interesting. Although I suspect many use Adblock anyway.

And as for the example on sports, I'm sure people will be delighted if the system blats out a score to a game they have yet to watch (which normally they would be able to avoid from happening).

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Optional

So, in effect, Mozilla want to do in the browser something similar to what Google are doing in the search results: Tailoring what you see based on what you've already seen.

Well, the Google problem is solved by not letting Google store cookies on your computer (and remaining logged out of any of their services unless logging in is necessary). And/or by using another search provider.

So the equivalent solution for FurryFox will answer this quote from the article:

"Some publishers have already pressed the API for this kind of thing into service, according to the Mozilla Blog, but the code is not in the wild and is being tested – technically and conceptually – as Mozilla figures out how people will react to websites that dynamically change content based on readers' past behaviours."

The way I'll react will be to prevent my browsing history from being saved. And/or use another web browser.

It's almost as if these companies want to drive people away from using them.

<paranoid> Or maybe they're just trying to drive me away from using them. Which is probably sensible, if truth be told.</paranoid>

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No

<h1 id='no'> Fuck No ! </h1>

<script> var h1=document.getElementById('no');

while(true){

h1.innerHTML+=h1.innerHTML;

}

</script>

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And people get upset about the NSA!

Oh, goody! A personalized spy experience! Believe it or not, this stuff is already done using cookies and web bugs and such. I like running with as much snoop-disrupting plugins as I can so I don't have the experience of momentarily browsing a particular site, and ads for that site's products keep following me. I hate that.

It's bad when it's done by the government, and it's bad when it's done by the private sector. This includes you, Mozilla!

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Its not for us

I'd wager that the people who read El Reg are awfully good at bending technology to our will. In this instance, quickly and accurately slurping whatever content from the internet that suits our needs or desires. This isn't for us. I image that what Mozilla is working on will make it a little easier for everyone else - for the people who aren't as good at navigating the endless sea of stuff on the internet - to find what they're looking for.

For us, well, either Mozilla provides an option to turn this behaviour off or there will be an addon which does so within hours. I don't see the harm in something that helps others while costing us nothing.

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I was ready to complain

that this is just the web 2.0 filter bubble ramped up to 11 and then I was offered the delicious prospect of never having to read about the doings of the Windsor clan again. Add to the list anyone who's ever appeared on reality tv and I'm sold.

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Re: I was ready to complain

Don't forget to add reality TV itself to your list.

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