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Users Protest Pocket Integration in an Open-Source Web Browser, Mozilla Responds

10500489_af9a9dc43d_oOne of Firefox’s selling points is that it is an open source web browser. Not only can users take the source code and role their own, they can also look through the code and know what is going on under the hood.

Or at least, that used to be possible. Earlier this year Mozilla released a couple new versions of Firefox, one of which came with integrated support for the latest generation of web DRM tech. That could arguably be described as a necessary evil, but Firefox users don’t feel the same about the Pocket extension.

Mozilla integrated that closed-source 3rd-party save-for-later service into Firefox last week, and Firefox users have voiced their displeasure over the move.  Users protested the change in various ways, including posting a bug report on Bugzilla, raising the issue in the Mozilla governance Google Group, and leaving comments on Hacker News.

The initial post in the Google Group offers a particularly good argument for why Mozilla made a mistake:

However, adding Pocket as a built-in feature to Firefox should not have been done.

… Pocket should have been an extension (in fact, a Pocket extension used to exist). It could have even been bundled with the browser. This distinction is important, since extensions can be removed entirely, whereas currently Pocket can only be disabled.

The user experience of disabling Pocket is not good, either. It needs to be disabled in about:config, which is not at all user friendly, and therefore not in line with Mozilla’s mission. In the past, Mozilla has been very good about showing the user what new features have been added to the interface and explaining any privacy implications that may come with them. That is why I was so surprised when the Pocket icon suddenly appeared in Firefox Developer Edition a couple days ago. It is so unlike Mozilla to introduce something like that, I ran a virus scan and checked what programs had been installed recently — I assumed it had been put there in the same way that IE users used to get the Ask Toolbar installed.

When I first read about this, I didn’t see any reason for Pocket to be integrated. The extension is readily available, so anyone who wanted it could install it. Not everyone wants it or needs it and it’s not a core ability, so there was no reason to integrate it into the web browser (other than Pocket possibly paying for the privilege, which is what I suspect happened).

Furthermore, I would have thought that the better way to integrate a save for later service would be to make the internal code platform-neutral, and let users supply their login details for Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, etc.

But Mozilla disagreed. Earlier this week Mozilla publicly responded to the complaints, telling VentureBeat that:

Pocket has been a popular Firefox add-on for a long time and we’ve seen that users love to save interesting Web content to easily revisit it later, so it was an easy choice to offer Pocket as a service in Firefox and we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback about the integration from users.

All the code related to this integration within Firefox is open source and Pocket has licensed all the Firefox integration code under the MPLv2 license. On top of that, Pocket asked Mozilla for input on how to improve their policy, based on early comments from Mozillians. After that discussion, Pocket updated their privacy policy in early May to explain more precisely how they handle data. You can read Pocket’s privacy policy here.

Directly integrating Pocket into the browser was a choice we made to provide this feature to our users in the best way possible. To disable Pocket, you can remove it from your toolbar or menu. If Pocket is removed from the toolbar or menu, then the feature is effectively disabled, though you can still find it again by accessing it in the Customize Panel. You can find detailed instructions here.

In short, Mozilla says that it has done everything exactly the way it should. For hardcore Firefox users, however, that may not be enough.


image by Lordcolus

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J.D. Ogre June 11, 2015 um 9:58 pm

"Pocket has been a popular Firefox add-on for a long time and we’ve seen that users love to save interesting Web content to easily revisit it later"

Yes. We call those "bookmarks".

So, for when the inevitable happens and I have to upgrade to a version with Pocket, does anyone know what domains this pointless service uses so that I can add them to my hosts file in advance?

Moriah Jovan June 12, 2015 um 12:02 am

I went to about:config, searched for “pocket,” and toggled all the trues to falses.

Ivan Icin June 13, 2015 um 7:50 pm

I won’t comment on the article but on the photo. I’ve made it 10 years ago for SpreadFirefox site. I can’t believe it is still alive and that people appreciate it :).

Nate Hoffelder June 13, 2015 um 7:54 pm

Did you upload it to Flickr? If you didn’t then I’m sorry for not offering proper credit.

Ivan Icin June 14, 2015 um 7:45 am

No, I haven’t, you can see in comments on Flickr that pic was taken from Spread Firefox site. Anyway, Spread Firefox is offline for a long time, so you couldn’t find any info even if you tried. Glad you’ve liked the pic!

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