Revenue and Motives

March 25th, 2008

John has a post today about how some people impute revenue motives to everything we do. In his case John made a statement about how one of Apple’s business practices is bad for the overall security and health of the Internet. (In this case the practice is to encourage consumers to download and install new software by identifying it as an “update” to software the person already has on his or her machine.)

Some of the reactions address the actual issue. But there’s also a set of responses along the lines of: ‘All Lilly really cares about is using Firefox to make money from Google, and all this talk of what’s good for the Internet is just a smokescreen for protecting the revenue stream from Google.’ (This is not an actual quote, it’s my description of a set of responses.) I’m coming to wonder if any statement or action we take that is controversial or based on mission with get this response. I’ve had this experience myself when discussing a number of topics.

Periodically I’ll be in a discussion about Mozilla’s plans for something and people respond by saying “Oh, that’s because Google cares about [fill in the blank] and your revenue comes from Google.” On several occasions I’ve been utterly dumb-founded and speechless because I have never even thought of Google in relation to the discussion. (I’d give some examples but I am concerned that we’ll end up rehashing old issues. )

But much of the world is driven by money and all sorts of people say they have different or additional motivations. So suspicion may be warranted. At Mozilla we can only do what John notes — keep pursuing the mission, keep demonstrating by our actions that our mission is the critical piece, and being authentic.

A separate problem is that a focus on money makes it easy to miss other, important topics. In this case the question is: what happens if consumers stop accepting security upgrades because they don’t trust the other software that comes along with it? That’s a disaster for all of us. That’s the question John is raising and it’s an important question to consider. Those commentators who dismiss this topic because Mozilla competes with commercial offerings and generates revenue miss this point. If the commentators you turn to dismiss everything for this reason, then I’ll hope you’ll add some additional commentators to your resource list.

19 comments for “Revenue and Motives”

  1. 1

    Pingback from Mozilla, Sugardaddies, Sustainability and Targets »

    […] income source, that is searches performed on Google originating from Firefox. Mitchell Baker has extended the commentary writing about her experiences with people often taking this, protecting your income stream, angle […]

  2. 2

    Iang said on March 25th, 2008 at 7:51 pm:

    Mozilla is in a rather special place, it is probably the world’s most successful pure open source organisation, whatever that means. Success in terms of money.

    And it’s mostly from Google. The problem for the open source critics (and the thought-free zone known as the “media”) is that there is a massive discord between the simple, pure sometimes innocent concept known as open source and the rather dirty grubby commercialism of “all your base are belong to Google.” Mozilla hasn’t really done much to address this, for example, preferring to not comment much beyond the filed statements.

    So this could be considered to be both a strategic issue and a message issue. Strategy would suggest diversification of income and other things (consult your favourite strategy wonk, the good stuff ain’t free 😉 .

    Message would suggest more details, more discussion of the deals, more clear reasoning of why the deals make sense. The contracts, even. After all, if we think we are part of a community, then the community “owns” that process.

    If open source, why not open contracts? Another personal reason: Over on the Mozilla Certificate Authority Policy page, requirement 10 says _the nature and amount of the party’s financial compensation by the CA is publicly disclosed_. This open governance technique apparently works to keep audit processes fair and honest, in the open, above board ( 🙂 so perhaps it could work for others.

    Sunlight is a wonderful disinfectant, and I believe this opportunity has been missed by Mozilla. So, yes, many comments from the critics in the future will have that undertone, and it will distract from the good work. Firstly because money explains an awful lot, if not everything, and secondly because many want answers on that question because they contribute or are otherwise part of the community, and the question has been there for 2-3 years now, without what I’d consider real attention.

  3. 3

    Iang (silver bullets) said on March 25th, 2008 at 8:13 pm:

    To address the security ramifications: “what happens if consumers stop accepting security upgrades because they don’t trust the other software that comes along with it?”

    The situation is complex and changing. I think John is right in his analysis of the problem: we want users to accept the updates, and we want them to be cleanly delivered to the users, with no distractions. So they do the good they are intended to.

    However, beyond that point, I would be more cautious. Two reasons: firstly, we know much less about security than we want to know, or we claim to know. This is slowly becoming a less controversial statement, so I’ll just move on quickly. What this means in the present case is that while John and the security guys in mozo may be very clear what *they* want to do, and firm and well founded in their logic, we (all) really don’t know enough to extend that to other players. Other users, other risks, other commercial situations. There may be diversified techniques that deliver benefits, and we won’t find them by jumping on those who do stuff we don’t like.

    Secondly, my own research in this issue (click on above) indicates that we may actually be in a pathologically bad area by encouraging everyone to be “like us.” By encouraging the “best practices” of teaching everyone to download all updates, we may be setting up an equilibrium in insecure practices, a stability that will be even harder to shift when attackers discover that there is a way to breach it. Better to encourage competition in practices, and let some diversity discover some varied defences.

    To be more concrete, I’d say that Mozo should say “we believe that auto-updates should be for security purposes only, because that’s our big concern.” But stop short of calling others “bad”. Partly because we really don’t know enough of everything, and partly because we don’t want a “best practices” to reach stability and lock us in to where the attackers want us.

    But hey, the security and economics field is evolving fast, primarily due to the evolution of an industrialised criminal sector in the last decade. We don’t know enough, and that applies to me too!

  4. 4

    Asa Dotzler said on March 25th, 2008 at 11:21 pm:

    >If open source, why not open contracts?

    I’d wager Mozilla would be happy to do that, but even with my super-limited business knowledge, I’m pretty sure most contracts require a second party and I don’t know of any second parties out there that would even jokingly consider open contracts for services so core to their business.

    Now, I suppose Mozilla could put business transparency above the goal of providing the best possible experience for its users, but I don’t think that’s the right move in this case.

    >Strategy would suggest diversification of income

    Beyond Google or beyond “search”?

    Beyond Google would be easy (presuming Mozilla wanted to switch to some other default provider.) My guess is there isn’t one decent search company out there that wouldn’t pay Mozilla as much or more for search traffic.

    If you’re suggesting diversification beyond search, how about some suggestions?

    Charging for the browser? In-browser banner ads? Selling off default bookmarks and toolbar buttons to the highest bidder? Charging for support or early security updates? Bundling ad-ware apps? They’ve all been tried and failed.

    Search seems to be one of those magic areas where providing users a great experience is a win, win, win situation. The users get a valuable convenience for a (the) key online activity. The search services get a lot of monetizable traffic. And the browser vendor gets a steady revenue stream. This positive relationship between user, service provider, and browser vendor (something Mozilla pioneered) is valuable enough that all of the other browsers are doing it now and isn’t necessarily dependent on any one search provider.

    There probably aren’t too many of those opportunities that really do work out for everyone. If you’ve got suggestions, do share.

    – A

  5. 5

    David Naylor said on March 26th, 2008 at 1:31 am:

    Good summary Asa.

  6. 6

    Laurens Holst said on March 26th, 2008 at 2:19 am:

    Maybe, just maybe, it’s the $500.000+/year salary that people are upset about. If a public worker here in the Netherlands would earn so much money, there would be hell to pay. You earn three times as much as our prime minister. As head (or former head) of an organisation who earns millions of dollars off the work of volunteers, where only a trivial amount of that money leaks back into the community, I don’t think that is justifiable.

    I’ve never seen a penny for my translation work. I got a T-shirt. Which is good, I’m perfectly fine with that, but when I hear reports that the company earns tens of millions and the CEO earns several times more than is spent on grants to its volunteers, it makes me scratch my head.


  7. 7

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  8. 8

    Iang (silver bullets) said on March 26th, 2008 at 4:42 am:

    Hi Asa,

    Open contracts do require … open counterparties! It doesn’t take a Ph.D in finance to realise that the reason the contracts aren’t open is because there are non-disclosure clauses. Skipping all the discussion about why your counterparty says you should protect him from openness, this puts the point on the debate: openness has its price.

    As to strategy, there are many challenges here. I’ll outline some, but there isn’t any easy win here. Hard work ahead! Firstly, there are definite limits to what an outsider can do. People like me can make suggestions from public info, but no more without deep inside knowledge. (Which I can’t do, conflicted, sorry.) Strategy done from outside is like being an armchair general; always right after the battle, and always too superficial to be useful before the battle.

    E.g., obviously, diversification of income is easy to write and hard to do. (So I was able to do it, leaving the hard part up to you!) That’s only an example of one direction, don’t think about diversification, but think broader: alliances, products, security, mission, geopolitics, …

    Even better, you want to find a strategy that works under true open conditions, one where you signal to your competitors what your strategy is going to be! Turn this into an advantage, as this will make it no ordinary strategy puzzle.

  9. 9

    Iang said on March 26th, 2008 at 4:53 am:

    Laurens, I hate being the ugly one in the room, *again*, but I have to disagree. We have to also consider it from the real commercial situation.

    Mozilla is sitting on a mountain of cash, and the management has proven they can do that, make that happen. There are only three ways forward in this situation: 1. they get poached., 2. they get paid real california salaries., 3., we discover something called insider fraud. 1 leads to 3 in the end. So there are really only 2 ways forward. As stakeholders (faux-shareholders), we have to consider that the number one need is governance (protecting the assets).

  10. 10

    RyanVM said on March 26th, 2008 at 6:00 am:

    Laurens, I hate to break it to you, but Mitchell’s salary is low if anything for her position in that area of the world, as lang pointed out.

  11. 11

    Maxo said on March 26th, 2008 at 10:59 am:

    Whenever a person of any significance in the public makes a statement publicly, that statement is likely to be wrapped around, shaken, stomped on, and otherwise painted up by the public and the press any way they see fit so that they can have something to talk about. Look at what the media did with Reverand Wrights awesome speech following 9/11.
    When you are an important member of a large company, it is critical to your company that you watch everything you say. The wrong word choice at the wrong time can send stalks tanking.
    As an NFP whose primary mission is to promote the free and open internet, I think any significant member of the MOCO should feel free to say what he or she believes on a subject without worrying about how the media and fanboys will take it, as long as there is no hurtfulness or malintent in the message.
    On thing I have always admired about people within MoCo is that they are always willing to accept criticism when it is just, and give prays where it is due. When IE8 passed ACID2 and changed it’s default to standards mode, Mozilla bloggers where quick to give Microsoft three chears. This is the real test that proves Mozilla is truly commited to an open web, not just lining their own profits.

  12. 12

    Leo said on March 26th, 2008 at 1:59 pm:

    Whenever you live in a culture of greed, it is hard, isn’t it? The problem lies in the fact that greedy people have power, just like the non-greedy. Ultimately a spiritually developed person can override the power of any who would stand against him or her, but that takes an amazing level of inner development.

    Everything depends on where the person takes their joy from.

    If the CEO takes joy from money and possessions and constantly compares him or herself to other CEOs, then, if you don’t pay them a salary that is close enough to that of peers, the CEO in question will feel slighted. And a slighted CEO will not be wholehearted about protecting assets.

    On the other hand, a CEO who takes primary joy from money is greedy and a CEO who constantly compares him or herself to other CEOs is conceited (I’m using a Buddhist definition of “conceit” here, which is a more profound and more correct definition — conceit is comparing oneself to others in any way, positive “I’m better”, negative “I’m worse”, or neutral “I’m the same”). Greed can be defined as a focus on quantity over quality. A greedy and conceited person is suffering from a type of blindness. Their eyes are not very clear. It’s like being in awe of shiny objects, and as soon as a shiny object is in your field of vision, you have hard time noticing other objects around it. That’s a type of blindness. So, a blind CEO truly cannot do a good job protecting assets, because you need a visionary, clear-eyed and clear-hearted CEO to do that.

    So what possibilities do we have here?

    1. A money oriented CEO, greedy and conceited. Greed and conceit always, necessarily blind. So you have a blind CEO. You have to pay him at least close to what his/her peers get or he/she won’t put a full-hearted effort into protecting the assets. But even when this CEO puts a full-hearted effort into protecting the assets, they cannot do a great job due to spiritual/mental/heart blindness (because inordinate attraction to wealth and status distorts one’s vision).

    2. A CEO who takes joy from sources other than money. Money is, of course, still needed and is useful to such a person, but money is no longer the dominant concern. If they have their basic needs met and can take a decent vacation once a year, they are satisfied. This kind of person sees what is truly important in life and will do a better job protecting the assets, because they won’t have as many vision distortion as the CEO in #1 to get in the way of their duties. All else being the same, this #2 CEO has a better ability to see any and all situations clearly and holistically. This kind of CEO has their finger on the pulse of the planet and on the pulse of life itself.

    Normally this issue is not discussed at all. But since Mozilla strives for openness and public service, this does become the subject of discussion. Other businessmen are assumed to be greedy and conceited by default, and so it doesn’t even enter into ordinary discussion (yet…). Everyone assumes extreme selfishness on the part of the highest level of management, and this is also why everyone is trying to read the money motive into everything that Mozilla does. This is because people have hard time understand the level of being where you can take immense joy, satisfaction, security and contentment from something other than sitting on a big pile of shiny things.

    But for a greedy person it’s very hard to imagine that joy can come from something other than possessions and social status. It’s almost like a blind person trying to imagine the rainbow. It’s possible to do, but it is very hard and the blind must be thoroughly motivated to receive the vision of the rainbow for this to happen.

  13. 13

    Al Billings said on March 26th, 2008 at 3:56 pm:


    There are a number of unspoken assumptions in what you wrote and, in the end, it isn’t very clear what you are trying to say. If you are trying to say that Mozilla shouldn’t pay its CEO much, I can understand your statement but that isn’t entirely clear.

    At the end of the day, regardless of vision, everyone expect their daily work to pay them somewhere between “enough to live on” and “going rate for my role and my peers.” It isn’t conceit to compare the salaries of a role with those of similar roles elsehwere. I’m a Buddhist but I still compared the pay I was offered to what I could make elsewhere (along with MANY other factors, such as joy in the work or goals) before accepting a job at MoCo. None of us are independently wealthy (as far as I know) so we can’t simply disregard the idea of compensation.

    So far, this issue seems like a blind to me. People seem to raise it in order to get a reaction out of people or to paint things with an implicit (rather than being explicit and open) brush. I have yet to hear what I would consider an effective criticism.

    None of this is really here or there in the context of Mitchell’s actual post and its topic.

    Because MoCo is privately opened and doing well, it can make decisions that are not entirely organized around “How can I make more profit for shareholders?” MoCo can make business decisions that are better in the long run or simply better for the open web that other companies may not be able to make. The end result is that “What is the financial impact of this decision?” is not the *final* factor in decision making though, responsibly, it has to be asked.

  14. 14

    Leo said on March 26th, 2008 at 4:51 pm:


    What I am saying is very simple. Mitchell is unhappy that people read profit motive into everything Mozilla does. That’s one. Two: a commenter or two here argued over whether or not Mitchell makes too much money. I responded to both of these concerns simultaneously by attempting to illuminate the underlying psychodynamic.

    It’s hard or impossible to tell from just a raw dollar amount number if the person is greedy or not. A lot depends on the person’s state of mind, and how they use the money and so on.

    If Mitchell extracts joy from sources other than money or status, then I believe we should all be very happy, even if she does get paid less than other CEOs.

    Another way to put it is this: What asset are we worried about protecting? Are we protecting Mitchell’s personal home and her cars? Are we protecting her social cachet? Are we protecting the Mozilla community of users? Are we protecting all of the above, and if yes, in what order of importance?

    Most CEOs see it as their job to protect purely their own cash hoard (recently circulated internal Microsoft memos come to mind). This is exactly why the corporation vehicle was invented. It was invented to limit personal risks while at the same time not limiting personal gains. This has lead to people being irresponsible, because if your potential gains do not have appropriate risks, you will take very risky routes toward those gains. You will risk social stability and happiness of many people if there is a large enough gain and you’re a purely money-oriented person. And a corp is a legalistic tool that allows that to happen.

    So, if we and/or Mitchell want to protect the Mozilla user base first and foremost, then Mitchell cannot afford to be greedy and she cannot afford to be conceited and she cannot afford to worry about her salary level at all, as long as it’s past a certain level. Her entire focus should be on the community if that’s the asset she (and we) want to protect. Greed and conceit would interfere with the vision one needs to protect the community.

    However, if Mitchell’s personal stuff is the number one asset to protect, then the community can be sacrificed to some degree, as long as it’s not sacrificed so much that it is entirely killed off. An analogy would be if you have a cow and you just care about yourself, you can inconvenience your cow by milking it too much. The cow can be in intense pain and suffering, and if your own tiny identity is all you care about, your goal is simply not to go overboard and kill off the cow. If the cow is pissed off and unhappy, as long as you can still get your milk every day, that is “best” from a greedy perspective.

    Unfortunately a lot of people think from the greed perspective because they don’t identify with all mankind. Rather many people see a sharp divide between themselves and others. And if others suffer, as long as they are not right next to your house, such that their pain and suffering is visible to you (and therefore annoying), it is OK that they suffer. That’s how the selfish mind works. It allows suffering to occur because those others are not you, and they are not visible, so it’s OK.

    My main goal is to shine some light and let people decide what they want to do and who they want to be in life. So all my “shoulds” are just my opinions, no more and no less.

    I am very happy with my bias and while I keep my eyes and ears open, I didn’t come to where I am lightly or easily. I keep my mind open, but at the same time, I believe what I am saying is very good and of high value and I plan to continue to talk about it in the near future.

  15. 15

    Leo said on March 26th, 2008 at 4:53 pm:


    By the way, I am *not* a Buddhist. I just like to borrow some ideas from Buddhism because they are useful. I am not any kind of “ist”.

  16. 16

    Leo said on March 26th, 2008 at 4:58 pm:

    Al, one more thing. You should not compare yourself to your “peers”, especially if you are a Buddhist.

    I am not a Buddhist so this doesn’t apply to me as a “should”, but it does apply to you since you subscribed yourself. 🙂

    But there is a good reason why it is so. Suppose all your peers are crooked? Suppose all of them are compensated with 5 personal female slaves? Should you also demand the same compensation just because others get it too?

    So when you think of your own compensation, you should think about what is best and what is right in the grandest sense of those words instead of what others get. Because often what others get is simply *not right* and also *not sustainable*.

  17. 17

    Duane said on April 4th, 2008 at 6:10 am:

    I find it curious that what’s good for the goose, demanding openness in contracts with lessor entities in most cases as pointed out by Ian, isn’t good for the gander, contracts with Google.

    If Mozilla is in such a strong position and would be able to get an equal amount of money from a competitor, why not demand all contracts and deals in future are made in an honest and open manner that would with stand community scrutiny?

    If Mozilla isn’t in such a strong position then obviously you really are already bought and paid for by Google.

  18. 18

    Iang (Funding link on CAcert) said on April 4th, 2008 at 6:49 am:

    Hi Duane,

    unfortunately, the goose and the gander may be closer than you think. You might recall when Frank Hecker was leading the very open Mozilla CA Policy project on the security mailing list, the prevailing mood about auditors was that if someone wasn’t a certified practitioner, then they should do it for free … to avoid conflicts.

    It was me that pointed out that making it free doesn’t avoid the conflict of interest, it just buries it. Better is to state that the remuneration is public, so we the users can look for any sense conflicts and judge for ourselves. That’s what was adopted in the policy point 10: “the nature and amount of the party’s financial compensation by the CA is publicly disclosed;…”

    As I am now auditing a CA (still, slowly) it’s clear that this gander cooked his own goose! I should point out that the CA has learnt from the policy as well (not through my own efforts) and it is definitely new territory, it’s very interesting to see it evolve.

  19. 19

    Duane said on April 10th, 2008 at 10:01 pm:


    I think we are making the same point, neither of us are stating that mozilla shouldn’t be accepting money from commercial entities, just like auditters shouldn’t be forced to be out of pocket either.

    However it doesn’t matter if it’s $10.00 or $10,000,000,000 what matters is what strings are attached to the dollar amount, and that’s where we both agree and even Mozilla’s own policies on certificate authorities has a discolure policy.

    After all, one of the, if not the biggest marketing aspects apart from firefox not costing users money is the fact the software is supposed to be open source which is why linux distributions include it. So If other aspects had the same disclousre policies and people were freely able to inspect them as freely as the organisation touts the code is I’m sure this post wouldn’t even exist in the first place.

    I guess Mozilla foundation/corp really will find out how much it is worth next time it goes to negoiate contracts with Google and others and demands the contracts be open. If they are worth what they think that are they won’t have to conceed on anything, if they aren’t then they will have to choose between the money and their users, and what does it mean if they choose the money over the users?

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