back to article Mozilla's creepy Mr Robot stunt in Firefox flops in touching tribute to TV show's 2nd season

Mozilla automatically installed a weird add-on to Firefox on people's computers – an add-on that turned out to be a marketing promotion for the hit telly show Mr Robot. The open-source non-profit dev house secretly slipped the oddity, dubbed Through the Looking Glass, into browser installations as a shield study. These special …

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  1. Updraft102 Silver badge

    They really are trying to follow Microsoft off of the cliff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Our goal with the custom experience we created with Mr Robot was to engage our users in a fun and unique way,"

      This quote sounds like it came straight from the Microsoft PR department. Like people want their browser to "engage" with them. It's supposed to be the other way around jagoffs.

      1. Notas Badoff

        Attitude

        Their attitude is what keeps them doing it to themselves. Simply this: Mozilla is always proud of themselves. Now what other well-loved companies fell into that trap?

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Attitude

          they can be 'proud of themselves' all they WANT to if they can get the product right...

          But with things like Australis, breakage of legacy plugins (many of which "FIX" the Australis b0rk-up), 2D FLATSO HTML 'settings' pages, etc. - this "users are by default our beta testers" nonsense is JUST the icing on the arrogance cake of FAIL.

          /me points out that PRIDE isn't necessarily bad, but when you're proud of something, and it's NOT deserved, it becomes ARROGANCE.

      2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Meh

        Groupthink

        "Shield Studies must be approved by

        - a Firefox Product Manager

        - Data Steward

        - Legal

        - QA

        - Release Management

        - AMO review

        - a member of the core Shield Team."*

        Did none of these people see a problem with this?

        *https://wiki.mozilla.org/Firefox/Shield/Shield_Studies

        1. Alan W. Rateliff, II

          Re: Groupthink

          Well, that list neither implies a hierarchy nor a point at which dissenting opinions may be over-ruled.

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Groupthink

          It seems it most of Mozilla didn't know this was happening, the bug was marked as private so not even other Mozilla employees could see it. The asylum is being run by Marketing yet again.

          Bugzilla 1424977

        3. Mage Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Groupthink

          Why would you expect them to see a problem considering all the other stupid things Mozilla have done to Firefox?

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Groupthink

          If it's anything like my work even if they voiced concerns because the "big boss" is in favour of it, it happens anyway.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Our goal with the custom experience we created with Mr Robot was to engage our users in a fun and unique way,"

        That is just such a fuckwitted, socially inept geek way of looking at the world. It's akin to "Why would anyone see any downside to this, it's all just harmless fun". You can engage me by writing a stable, performant, well supported browser and not filling my machine with shit.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Demographic

          "pushed to a big bunch of people – seemingly everyone who kept the default settings – and was intended as a game to promote the hacker-centric TV suspense-drama."

          Isnt that exactly the wrong cross section of users for a "hacker-centric TV suspense-drama"? They need to "invert selection".

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "socially inept geek way of looking at the world."

          Exactly - and their little world only - as if everybody knew what Mr. Robot is.

          But too many people at Mozilla look to be thinking more and more a browser is used just for fun, and not to produce actual work - it has to be managed professionally, and not by marketing.

          So they're busy to optimize maybe your "streaming experience" - while killing support for managing your network devices...

      4. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

        It's like letters and packages from somebody you don't know, though in a language you do know. It made me angry. Turned out it was a gift--that was supposed to be an adventure--from the missuz. It must have hurt her worse than it hurt me. That's where the parallel breaks down. Mozilla never hurts, it blithely continues.

      5. BillG Silver badge
        WTF?

        WTF?

        What a complete and total lack of common sense.

    2. Unicornpiss Silver badge

      "They really are trying to follow Microsoft off of the cliff."

      You may be right.. Look at how similar the last release of FF looks to the hated Edge browser.

      I've been a loyal FF user for 10+ years on several platforms and this makes me sad. Mozilla's last Android FF release is also completely unusable.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      They really are trying to follow Microsoft off of the cliff.

      I need to be able to give you more than one up-vote for that...

  2. tfewster Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Extended Support Release track

    Firefox ESR 52.5.2 doesn't seem to support "about:studies"

    What a shame, I won't get to see it. I knew there was a reason I stuck to the ESR.

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Extended Support Release track

      "I knew there was a reason I stuck to the ESR".

      I seriously can't believe they pulled a stunt like this while simultaneously pushing out the ctashfest that is Quantum.

      Imagine the scene - you get the plugin, Quantum craps itself (yet again), and suddenly you've got this extra plugin saying hello.

      Yeah, that's why we deployed ESR rather than latest-and-greatest.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Extended Support Release track

        ESR here, too.

        Latest version on the boxen with slackware-current, though ... but I didn't get hit with it. After all these years, I automagically go through and turn off anything labeled "automatic" in any code I install. Handy reflex to have. Strangely enough, I don't even remember turning it off!

        However, bad move Mozilla. ARG indeed.

        1. Michael Strorm

          Re: Extended Support Release track

          @jake; "ESR here, too."

          That's great Eric, but why are you calling yourself "Jake"?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Extended Support Release track

            If you ever read me arguing with Raymond on Usenet ::mumble:: years ago, you'd know we aren't the same person.

            And it's "jake", not "Jake". There is an entity here on ElReg called "Jake" (there have been a couple of them, actually, over the years), and s/he ain't me either.

      2. joed

        Re: Extended Support Release track

        I don't know what crashfest you're referring to. The other OP mentioned Palemoon - well, this one would be more prone to crashes and memory leaks (at least in my somewhat extensive experience).

        Back to the study - I did not get whacked with Mr Robot crap but I once suffered "serious trauma" when Mozilla tested merging urlbar and the search box. I wasted whole evening (I like the idea of googling only when I mean to) trying to customize my FF, all in vain before figuring out it I was a test rat. Forgiven but not forgotten. Still the best browser out there, especially now that NoScript is back in Quantum (I did ESR my other boxes during that painful transition as life was unbearable without NS and some sites just refused to render in Palemoon).

    2. fobobob

      Re: Extended Support Release track

      I've chosen to suffer the clunkiness of ESR 45 + ublock + noscript where i must use it at all (generally a PaleMoon user). Nothing against the new shiny, personally (i haven't used it enough to have an opinion), but I'll stick with the devil that is known for now. If they could've managed to get Developer Tools to parity with FireBug, I might not have seen it this way.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Extended Support Release track

        "If they could've managed to get Developer Tools to parity with FireBug"

        You do realise that Developer Tools *is* FireBug?

    3. Oh Homer Silver badge
      Windows

      about:studies

      (!) The address isn't valid
      Yay.

      You can have my ESR when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.

    4. just_me
      Mushroom

      Re: Extended Support Release track

      Don't bet on ESR not supporting "studies" or "experiments". Look at 'about:config' search on the category 'experiments.'.... what do you see??

      1. tfewster Silver badge
        Facepalm

        @just_me Re: Extended Support Release track

        Interesting - Thank you for that. The Firefox Wiki indicates that "experiments" are just about Firefox telemetry, but it's a sobering reminder that a browser is a two-way window.

    5. Nattrash
      Boffin

      Re: Extended Support Release track

      Also got a blank on about:studies on an (eval) box with Quantum here...

      But could it be this is connected to the setting in prefs.js of

      "app.shield.optoutstudies.enabled"

      As for us: didn't get this on the Quantum box. Or the Waterfox ones...

  3. sjsmoto

    "Our goal with the custom experience we created with Mr Robot was to engage enrage our users..."

    FTFY and you met that goal.

  4. alan buxey

    all foretold

    "And while we’re here, they are having their way with us.

    They’ve packaged our fight into product, turned our dissent into intellectual property, televising our revolution with commercial breaks.

    They’ve backdoored into our minds and robbed our truth, refurbished the facts, then marked up the price.

    This is what they do. This is what they’re good at. This is their greatest trick.

    Lobotomizing us into their virtual reality horror show."

    :)

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: all foretold

      Or, more succinctly...

      "We live in a kingdom of bullshit."

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: all foretold

      interesting quote, it forced me to google. Seems to be from 3rd season of the 'Mr. Robot' series.

      After reading about it here I'm not sure I'd want to even SEE that show.

      It's been my experience that hackers aren't anarchists, most aren't socialists (like Stallman), nor even anti-capitalists. The EFF is more like the ACLU than not, it seems, and doesn't really represent what [from what I've seen] MOST hackers think or do.

      Most hackers seem to be (in general ) are libertarians, and somewhat conservative at that. In other words, it's less about legalizing everything (like drugs), and more about just being a "more free" society. After all, OTHER methods of governance take freedom (and/or money) AWAY. And most of them (us) are employed in fields where rapid thinking, problem solving, and creative solutions are key to making your customer/employer happy with you. You know, like I.T., engineering, software, ...

      And I don't think you'll find too many hackers that are SJW's, either. Maybe, among the easily brainwashed n00b/s'kiddie types you'll find a few, but generally NO. Hackers tend to want their freedom, and freedom for everyone else, too [even if they don't agree with it]. You'll also find that hackers generally accept social change a bit faster than others, too, mostly on the 'live and let live' side, and not the "we have to change everybody who disagrees with us" side - as an example I had some interesting online discussions with a transgender hacker some time ago (about transgender-ness, lots of interesting resources referenced), and that particular hacker had no problem being accepted in the newsgroup, without the usual "suck-up" behavior that SJW's and the left typically give to people who are in 'SJW protected classes'.. yeah it's sad when "the new XXX employee" gets sucked-up to that way. EMBARASSINGLY sad, like they become instant 'celebreties'. I just treat people the same, regardless. I think that's what they want, too.

      But, regardless of all of that, the 'alternative' perception of hackers makes for popular TV shows, I'd guess... so it's perpetuated. Thing is, hackers probably don't care nor don't watch the show. Hackers on shows like 'Bull' and 'Criminal Minds' and 'NCIS' are, however, pretty close to "the real thing" from my perspective. I mean, who doesn't like Garcia? Abbey? or McGee? Or that hacker girl on 'Bull' ?

      Anyway, 'nuff from me now. I should get "work" done.

  5. TechnicalBen Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I'm sure it's opt in...

    " by default, Firefox accepts and enables these studies."

    Oh well.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: I'm sure it's opt in...

      That's why the first thing I do after an install/update is to review settings and deselect anything that look like that... the real issue is when the options are hidden...

      1. AdamWill

        Re: I'm sure it's opt in...

        On that note, this "shield study" preference appears to have been snuck in as a sub-setting of an *older* setting. There has been a "Allow Firefox to send technical and interaction data to Mozilla" setting for a while; it may have been opt-in at some point but for quite a whole it's been opt-out. I've usually left this checked as I generally figured I trust Mozilla *enough* to let them do some telemetry stuff. But among other things, this debacle caused me to notice that they've snuck in "Allow Firefox to install and run studies" as a *sub-preference* of "Allow Firefox to send technical and interaction data to Mozilla", which was set to "yes" (checked) by default without ever once explicitly notifying me about it.

        This is bad. These "shield studies" are clearly a pretty different thing from telemetry even when they're actual studies and not TV marketing tie-ins, and I don't think it's cricket at all to just go ahead and assume anyone who's okay with telemetry is okay with being used as a feature test guinea pig.

  6. Adam 1 Silver badge

    Et tu 2 Moz?

    Whilst the lyrical stylings of certain Irish tax dodgers may not be to everyone's taste, the payload was not executable code. I just don't get why they would do this. It isn't as if the browser experience couldn't otherwise be improved by fixing performance bottlenecks and fixing long-standing bugs. Seriously, sort out your priorities.

  7. tempemeaty

    Death by a thousand cuts?

    It's been a little theory of mine, that Mozilla leadership is actively sabotaging the browser and trying to make it look accidental.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Death by a thousand cuts?

      Google must set Mozilla policy?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        'Google must set Mozilla policy?'

        They do! Mozilla dropped Yahoo and returned to the loving arms of Mountain View recently iirc. So Pale Moon is it then, thoughts?

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: 'Google must set Mozilla policy?'

          "So Pale Moon is it then, thoughts?"

          resurrect 'Iceweasel' as part of 'devuan' maybe. make sure it easily builds from source on all platforms, and VOILA!

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Death by a thousand cuts?

      "actively sabotaging the browser"

      conspiracy or incompetence, either reason yields the same results

  8. asdfasdfasdf2015

    Github complacent

    I reported that repo as malware, github asked me to prove it, yet they refuse to shut down the repo. I guess they don't use firefox, or read the news... either that or they're getting paid to look the other way.

    1. AdamWill

      Re: Github complacent

      Well, that seems a bit off. Mozilla put the extension code up on github after the fact as an attempt to demonstrate that it doesn't do anything nefarious. Getting github to take it down isn't going to help anyone, really.

  9. OrneryRedGuy

    Disable feedback

    Up until this moment I always felt a bit paranoid when I disabled items such as "Allow Firefox to send technical and interaction data to Mozilla" in my programs. But it turns out if you disable that, then the 'studies' are also disabled. Who can I say "told you so" to?

    (Probably only a matter of time before that switch becomes "advisory" only...)

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Disable feedback

      "(Probably only a matter of time before that switch becomes "advisory" only"

      if that happens I'll submit a patch for FreeBSD to disable it entirely. If they don't accept it, I'll just publish it independently. Or hell, fork the @#$%'ing repo and call it "F-U-fox"

  10. JohnFen Silver badge

    Firefox's fall from grace

    First came Pocket, then opt-out telemetry, now this.

    It has become clear that Firefox is no longer a browser that can be trusted like it used to be. Now, it has to be treated the same as every other major browser: as an inherent security risk that must be carefully watched at all times.

    It's so very sad to see.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Firefox's fall from grace

      First came AUSTRALIS, then Pocket, then opt-out telemetry, then 57, now this.

      fixed. you're welcome.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Firefox's fall from grace

        Well, as terrible as Australis was, it was not a security issue -- and that was back when Firefox was powerful enough that you could use a plugin to fix it.

        But I did leave out at least one other example of the rot that Firefox is experiencing: Cliqz.

  11. Carl D

    " I knew there was a reason I stuck to the ESR."

    I knew there was a reason why I dumped Firefox for Pale Moon a couple of months back (after using Firefox for about 12 years).

    1. Updraft102 Silver badge

      Waterfox removes all that kind of thing too.

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