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Mozilla Labs Wants To Monitor (Volunteers') Firefox Use 118

Howardd21 writes "PC World reports that Mozilla Labs wants 1% of its Firefox users to voluntarily provide information about how they use the browser, and their web browsing habits. This would be done through an add-on named "Test Pilot" that collects the information and associates it with some demographic information that the user has provided. Unlike other data collection utilities that software developers may include to provide usage information, the add-on will follow the same open source concept that Firefox adheres to, allowing the market to better understand what is being collected. Mozilla Labs stresses privacy when discussing how they will collect, store and use the data, including publishing it for other researchers to to analyze."
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Mozilla Labs Wants To Monitor (Volunteers') Firefox Use

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  • by jerep ( 794296 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @04:33PM (#26591837)

    I'm not giving them my best porn sites.

  • Mandatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bocconcini ( 1057516 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @04:33PM (#26591845)
    In Soviet Russia, open source monitors you!
  • round 1 (Score:2, Funny)

    by ani23 ( 899493 )
    Mozilla Labs Wants To Monitor (Volunteers') Firefox Use VS Microsoft Wants To Monitor (Volunteers') IE Use Fight
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ani23 ( 899493 )
      now with line breaks
      Mozilla Labs Wants To Monitor (Volunteers') Firefox Use
      Microsoft Wants To Monitor (Volunteers') IE Use.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @04:48PM (#26591983)

    instead of just adding it to the base code.

    • by jopsen ( 885607 )
      Exactly... And honestly, when they do it this way, and share the results I wouldn't mind to donate a bit of my internet browsing habits for research... :)
      But 1% of all firefox users that's pretty ambitious...
    • Well, why have a plugin system if you aren't going to use it?
      Frankly, I wish they would rip out RSS, spell check, tabs... nearly everything... and make plugins (and include a collection in the default install).
    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      Doesn't multiple applications inform that they will collect the information? I don't see why this need the "goodluckwiththat", I'd gladly give Mozilla all my usage information, same for Opera and Safari if Apple wanted it.

      I don't have much to hide and I doubt they do anything with my specific data anyway.

      Off-topic rant: Thinking about uninstalling Flash and live without all the videos. It would be so nice without that piece of crap (Flash, not the videos :()

      • Speaking of tags, should this be tagged 'bigbrother' or something more appropriate like 'middlebrother' or 'littlebrother?'
        • How about "big friend"?

          Q: As in the old Soviet times jokes "The Russians were our friends, now they are our brothers, why is that so?"
          A: Because you can choose your friends, but not your family.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @04:49PM (#26591999)

    "This is very odd... all of users primarily visit technology sites, and, uh, porn."

  • by quickOnTheUptake ( 1450889 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:00PM (#26592109)

    The data collection mechanism is internally called âoeService Quality Monitoringâ, or just SQM. It was introduced in Office 2003, and presents itself to the user as âoeCustomer Experience Improvement Programâ (CEIP), or you might also see it under the heading of âoeHelp Make Office Betterâ. . . .What did Microsoft do with the data? It turns out, a lot. The data combined with human judgment was the basis for the placement of all commands on the Ribbon. The Home tab in all programs is a great example of the statistics at work. The commands on the Home tab represent the 80% most used commands of that particular application.

    From: here []

    "One difference between Firefox 2.0 and Firefox 3.0 is that the Back button grew in size," Raskin said. "Why did it change? Because we found that people used the Back button much more than the Forward button."

    I hope this information about most used features isn't going to be used to develop a Mozilla ribbon.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Additional info from Mozilla

      Overview of Test Pilot We can provide a much more satisfying experience all around by putting in place some basic infrastructure. Here's the idea: * We develop and promote a formal Test Pilot program with a Firefox add-on at its core.
      * The first time the Test Pilot add-on is run, it asks a few simple non-personally-identifiable questions in order to put the user into a demographic bucket, e.g. technical level, locale, etc., and to let them opt in to additional anonymou

    • by Btarlinian ( 922732 ) <tarlinian @ g m a> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:19PM (#26592297)

      I hope this information about most used features isn't going to be used to develop a Mozilla ribbon.

      Sure, discounting the fact that the ribbon was probably the best UI design MS has ever created. (The only people who might dislike it are those who have learned the intricacies of the Office menu structure and they still have the option to switch back.) If Mozilla can come up with something as good as the Ribbon from this, I'd say it's a good thing

      • Mozilla can have this idea for a "fast-forward" thumbnail button - all tabs included, and/or just history and/or by category: I declare this idea PD (Public Domain). Unless Apple's already done it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

        Is there any consensus or are there usability-studies that support your claim that the ribbon is great?

        (I have no opinion on it. I'm just curious. I haven't seen either yet.)

        • When I first saw the "Ribbon", I thought it was more of Firefox Tabs with a text editor at the bottom.

        • by cromar ( 1103585 )
          The real issue is that it's about time to decouple app code and UI code. Why should our "command area," e.g. menu bar vs ribbon vs keyboard vs voice etc., be solely dictated by the apps we use?
          • The real issue is that it's about time to decouple app code and UI code. Why should our "command area," e.g. menu bar vs ribbon vs keyboard vs voice etc., be solely dictated by the apps we use?

            In order to standardize the UI for training reasons. Just because /.s audience is tech-savvy doesn't mean that everyone is.

            Strangely, this is also the largest complaint about Office 2007: Microsoft moved everything and now no one can find anything.

            • by cromar ( 1103585 )

              Strangely, this is also the largest complaint about Office 2007: Microsoft moved everything and now no one can find anything.

              Right! It's annoying to have to learn a new interface to do the same things you already knew how to do. If we could standardize the UI for all applications we would only have to learn a UI once (and how to customize it). Why should I care if I am "in" MS word, when really what I am doing is editing text. Why should the UI change when I am browsing or listening to audio? Having one UI for the entire computer would not only be great to power users, but also for those just learning the computer.

        • by anss123 ( 985305 )

          Is there any consensus or are there usability-studies that support your claim that the ribbon is great?

          The ribbon has it's strengths but it's not applicable to all type of apps. Unless you have an oddly configured browser you'll have about 8 interface elements (buttons, address bar, favorites) + the menu and status bar and perhaps a bookmarks toolbar (anyone use that?). Not enough elements to make ribbon an advantage.

          One way of thinking of the ribbon is as a menu that sticks open when you press it, so that you won't need to open it repeatedly - assuming the ribbon has the functions you want on that "menu"

          • by g253 ( 855070 )
            I'm not conviced a ribbon would be inadequate for a browser. I only have a few add-ons but they still clutter the interface a bit. And I go to the options or wander in the menus quite a bit as well.
        • There's a ton of usability work behind Office 2007. I don't know if anything's actually published, but Jensen Harris, a Program Manager from Microsoft, has been blogging a lot about the UI and the thoughts behind the ribbon.


      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The only people who might dislike it are those who have learned the intricacies of the Office menu structure

        Sorry, but no, I don't know the intricacies of either, I hate the ribbon because without fucking *words* I don't know what a button does.

    • I had to turn off SQM, it was causing Windows Installer to crash on Windows 7 when I tried to install UpdateStar. Didn't even get far enough to log anything, but thankfully Process Monitor helped me figure it out.

      So apparently the Service Quality Monitoring is degrading the service quality, and then monitoring it. I don't think that's very useful, personally.

  • by duffbeer703 ( 177751 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:02PM (#26592125)

    How about making it possible to update Firefox in a business environment without administrative rights? Maybe allow admins to push the browser and patches?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      New features? What a brilliant idea!

      If only there were some way for them to determine what usage scenarios are most common, and what browsing patterns most in need of optimization... so that they could then implement the features that are most needed...

      Maybe they should collect usage statistics or something...

      • How the heck are you going to find that "administrators need to update Firefox automatically" from daily usage statistics?

        Sorry, but these stats will only be useful for certain small parts of the browser. Most of the browser goes into creating a platform - HTML, scripting, add-ins etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by grasshoppa ( 657393 )

      Absolutely. I would love firefox to be a viable browser in the workplace, but it simply isn't given the way settings are stored alone, nevermind the inability to patch and update.

      • Wait... the way settings are stored? In user profiles? How is that not MORE helpful for centralized operations?

        Besides, patch and update? Just replace the damn executable. It's not hard.
    • I'd like to see extensions/addons actually get signed, so that we could then have a central repository into which users could download extensions, and then other users could get the updates that were downloaded by them. I'm in the digital ghetto (which is to say, dialup on copper formerly owned by pacific bell) and having to download all the extension updates twice is, while not impossible, definitely arduous. (and silly)

      • When you are on Mozilla's plugin page about to click that shiny "Add to Firefox" button, try right-clicking and selecting "Save link As..."
        Stick the .xpi on a network share and open it with Firefox on all machines you want to update.
    • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:37PM (#26593029)

      And allow admins to control stuff like configuration, homepage, etc. Where I work, they modified firefox from source to allow some of these things. Supposingly tried to contact the team (big, big, big company) and they didn't even want to talk, so we did it on our own. Works fine, but (amusingly enough), IE is used as the primary browser just because we have can have our way with it, on a global scale, while Firefox, we need to play with the source to get it to do what we need, and while we actually DO that, its a pain in the ass.

      • We had the same experience -- my employer (government agency) contacted several people at Mozilla (and were willing to pay a good sum), and were rebuffed in a pretty obnoxious way.

        • by Shados ( 741919 )

          Indeed. A little birdy told me (very indirectly, so this isn't worth much) that Google was a lot more interested in such we may very well see "Chrome Enterprise" way before Firefox become enterprise ready.

      • by Mozk ( 844858 )

        Why would you have to do that? Just put the settings in user.js in the user's profile.

        • by Shados ( 741919 )

          Because then they're part of the user's profile :) And the user can change them, and controlling settings for a hundred thousand workstations spread across the world on heterogeneous networks become a pain. Yes, creative scripting can arrange that. Some things become far trickier (like some UI modifications so the users don't think some settings are available when they're not), but its nothing impossible.

          Just, having to do that for each and every program that doesn't play nice is time that could be better s

    • Make the Firefox app folder user-writable, certainty that would be all that's needed?
      • Stupid spell check. Stupid me for not checking spell check. *certainly
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by duffbeer703 ( 177751 )

        That would allow users to install automatic updates, but would open up the computers for massive ownage by zero-day threats.

        • by vux984 ( 928602 )
          That would allow users to install automatic updates, but would open up the computers for massive ownage by zero-day threats. So if I were to install firefox into the my documents folder instead of the default program files folder, that would open up the computers for "massive ownage by zero-day threats"? I'm curious how exactly you think this would work. At worst case I suppose firefox itself could be overwritten by something malicious, since its in a user writable folder, but pragmatically, that's a pret
    • Well perhaps they are gathering this information to try and determine what their users most commonly do, so that they can be more focused with new features. That seems like it is a positive to me.
    • by txsable ( 169665 )

      Not my project but a friend of mine works on the FrontMotion Firefox Community Edition [] project:

      "FrontMotion Firefox Community Edition is a customized version of Firefox with the ability to lockdown settings through Active Directory using Administrative Templates. Similar to lockdown settings with mozilla.cfg on one computer, you can now use Administrative Templates to enforce settings across your organization. Use Firefox on your corporate computers to decrease virus incidents and increase overall security.

  • by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:03PM (#26592131) Homepage

    Seriously for a sec -- what kind of person would volunteer for something like this? And would that person really represent the average user?

    • by IceFox ( 18179 )
      Every time you visit any website you tell them exactly what you are doing. What pages you go to, what links you click on and even what link brought you to this site. Using javascript they can even see where you mouse goes on every page. They have a complete log of every page you visited on their site. Scared? What user indeed.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Not read the EULA thoroughly upon installation?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My copy of firefox didn't come with a EULA you piece of FUD.

  • Bias (Score:3, Insightful)

    by michaelhood ( 667393 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:15PM (#26592253)

    Apologies to MrEricSir, as he posted on this sort of but I wanted to write my own opinion.

    This is textbook sampling bias. It's just now getting to the point that the "average user" might be someone who is even using FireFox. There is no way the people that install this addon and submit their usage to Mozilla will be representative of anything useful at all.

    Unfortunately, to get the "average user", Mozilla probably need run some "punch the monkey" banners on MySpace - offering people a free iPod and a trip to a tropical destination, in exchange for installing this addon. Maybe they can use some of their Googlefortune.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Artraze ( 600366 )

      On the other hand, why would they even want "average user" over "average Firefox user"? I can understand that the former may have value in as far a switching users to Firefox, but on the other hand most people don't switch because IE is good enough and already installed. No matter how much touts improvements in whatever, they aren't going to convince these people. Mozilla is best off improving their experience for existing uses so that they: a) don't switch away, and b) install FF on their friends comput

      • This is an interesting point. I guess it just depends on what their goals are.

        The way I parsed the summary (this is /.), they were looking to figure out how people "use the internet", in loose terms.

        Anyway, good call. We'll see.

    • Or more sensibly, simply go and find real physical people, randomly selected, to come into their offices... you know... like real user tests...

  • by johnjones ( 14274 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:18PM (#26592285) Homepage Journal

    first thing is testing and the best thing is feedback

    yes crash reporter's help but the best thing is real feedback about what actually is stressing the engine

    are javascript functions that rarely get used the best use of the engineers time ?
    knowing what is going on and what really stress's the engines is profiling
    Profiling is a good thing
    Hard to do right without actually asking real users to do it

    I welcome the fact they actually doing it themselves and building it out in a open way !


    John Jones

  • Just offer a small compensation from the multi-million dollar Mozilla Foundation budget [] and people will volunteer. As Schneier said [], "If McDonald's offered a free Big Mac for a DNA sample, there would be lines around the block."
  • Sure (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alexborges ( 313924 )

    The large reptile can have my data. No problem with that at all.

  • I can see it now. Journalists unfamiliar with this will write articles discussing Firefox, and among the other "facts" they'll get wrong, they'll note that Firefox sends all your browsing information to its maker. There will be an entire campaign of FUD around this. Maybe they should have released the same exact code under a separate name like Volunteerfox. Volunteerfox will send info about your browsing habits but Firefox will not. Then all the FUD in the world about Volunteerfox won't hurt Firefox.
  • Stupid statistics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by turkeyfeathers ( 843622 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:46PM (#26593139)
    Conclusion: 100% of our users aren't at all concerned about their privacy (based on our 1% voluntary sample size). -Mozilla Labs
    • Ah, but the fact that only N% of their user base opted to install the extension is a statistic in and of itself and would be factored in to any conclusions.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You are just describing a feedback program...

    This is insulting, it's like just posting because there's nothing to post...

  • by AaronLawrence ( 600990 ) * on Saturday January 24, 2009 @07:52PM (#26593799)

    Users have submitted thousands of bugs, and then voted on them.
    Yet those votes don't get acted on. Mozilla fixes bugs or adds features when "something else" tells them they should - often, what's cool for developers or what some big company wants.

    Why would they pay attention to the statistics generated by this program when they don't pay attention to the much more focussed statistics already in Bugzilla?

    • by Draek ( 916851 )

      Perhaps due to the sample bias issue other posters have pointed out. If the average user is unlikely to volunteer for such a monitoring, what are the chances he'll actually go to the bugzilla and submit a bug about something he wants done?

      The best example of that is the AwesomeBar, with dozens of people asking for its removal on bugzilla et al, yet how many normal, non-techy people have you met which actively dislike it? for me it's zero and I know plenty of normal Firefox users.

      • True, there is massive bias.
        However, they are not going to find out about bugs (in most cases) from usage statistics, so the two things are separate. Bugzilla is the best/only way they have to collect bugs, and they are mostly ignoring the votes in there, so it seems likely they would ignore the user feedback as well (except where they are already interested in an issue).

    • by Plug ( 14127 )

      Read the blog post []. The goal is (in my interpretation) that usability researchers can ask specific questions like "How often do people click on this 10x10 square vs that 10x10 square", and if it's a ratio of 10:1, they can make the more common square bigger. Or ask how many tabs people have open at once, broken down into "new users" and "experienced users", and work on appropriate changes to the performance of the app. I understand it to mean Test Pilot allows researchers (extension authors, browser deve

  • This sort of thing is exactly what's driving the best volunteer people away from the Mozilla Project.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Fuck you. Pay me."

  • statistics (Score:1, Interesting)

    by shnull ( 1359843 )
    Are to most corporations and governments nothing but a means of convincing their consumers and subjects that what the government dictates is truly the only way and is really what they want (this is not judgment, merely a please-think remark)

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"