Disconnect Regarding Data

October 6th, 2008

I’ve read the comments to my last post a number of times and I think I now understand what’s happening.

There are a bunch of comments along the lines of “if Firefox starts to include something that tracks my behavior and automatically sends that information off to someone else, then I don’t want to use it anymore.” Absolutely. I don’t want to use that kind of product either. That’s why I’m part of Mozilla — to build products that don’t do this sort of thing. To be explicit: Firefox and Mozilla will remain intensely focused on privacy, protection of personal data and user control over that data. The Mozilla community won’t build or support products that do otherwise.

There are also some comments that discount the examples I used because they are “server-side.” Yes. Absolutely. The examples are server-side because that’s what I mean.

The kind of data I’m trying to talk about is more like census-data: how many people are using the Internet; what are the broad patterns of Internet development and usage. In our physical lives, the basic demographics of our population collected in a census are a valuable shared resource. In understanding the Internet aggregate, anonymized, server-side census-like data can also be a valuable public resource.

This kind of data can of course remain a private resource, held by those websites big enough to generate their own understanding. My point is that moving some of this census-like data from the private to the public realm could have great benefits.

I’m wondering if this distinction, which is so clear in my mind, has not been clear in my writing. The term “usage data” may have made this worse. I explicitly do not mean using the browser to collect individual usage data. I mean looking at broad usage patterns that can be discerned from aggregated, server-side data, such as the examples I gave before.

7 comments for “Disconnect Regarding Data”

  1. 1

    Simon said on October 6th, 2008 at 5:44 pm:

    So to clarify, you’re not really talking about browsers (Firefox or otherwise) at all – you’re thinking more of the ability of large sites to correlate whatever data they can obtain from visitors, right? Demographics of where people are browsing from, what browser they’re using, what they’re looking at, etc?

  2. 2

    Mitchell Baker said on October 6th, 2008 at 10:51 pm:



    And to be clear, there is a set of correlation techniques that large sites might use that Mozilla will not. Some kinds of correlation is all about trying to attach personal data to activities rather than generate aggregate, anonymized data. That doesn’t fit with Mozilla values and we don’t intend to do that either.


  3. 3

    Lilly Mouse said on October 7th, 2008 at 2:07 am:

    Mm, I really support improving technology and services by sharing data and behaviour.

    But there needs to be a firm guarantee that this info won’t be given to third parties I have no affiliation to or for…

    That said, I love Firefox and would recommend it as a browser to all and sundry willing to listen.

    Ciao for now,

  4. 4

    Mitchell Baker said on October 7th, 2008 at 8:37 am:


    Absolutely. You should be the one to decide if information about you is shared.


  5. 5

    thomas said on October 7th, 2008 at 10:31 am:

    “This kind of data can of course remain a private resource, held by those websites big enough to generate their own understanding.”

    Why don’t you just ask *those big websites* to give you their data?

  6. 6

    Mitchell Baker said on October 7th, 2008 at 10:56 am:


    Maybe that will be a part of the plan we develop. I’ll be surprised if many agree to do this, but it would be great to be surprised.

  7. 7

    Ben said on October 30th, 2008 at 1:31 am:

    Whatever the reason, I don’t want a bit of my surf habits to be collected by Mozilla, I don’t even want there’s such an option enabled by user manually.

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