As the battle for digital consumer privacy becomes increasingly complex and intense, most consumers are shrouded in fog of war.
Mozilla, the nonprofit that operates the Firefox browser, aims to change that with Rally, a new browser extension designed to democratize internet search and educate consumers about how data is collected and used by people. platforms and private companies.
The Rally extension, which Mozilla released widely today after an alpha release in early May, allows users to opt in to tracking research projects on how people use the Internet. This type of research is generally difficult to perform because the platforms that control much of the day-to-day Internet user experience – Google, for example, or Facebook or Amazon – often refuse to share data with academics, non-profit organizations or third parties.
Two of the first three projects for which Rally will be used were developed in partnership with academic institutions; a third, recently identified behavioral focus known as doomscrolling, will be conducted internally by Mozilla.
“These companies build models of your behavior and use them to predict your next steps online and, increasingly, offline,” said Rebecca Weiss, Rally project manager. “If things are built on data and the data is only owned by a few, this net loss is felt by society.”
The key details:
- At the moment, Rally is only used by “several hundred” people, Weiss said, although the goal is to broaden the range considerably.
- Rally users’ data shares differ depending on the nature of the project they are participating in. Some projects only follow navigation, while others follow actions taken, for example if a user shares content via social networks. Data is also only shared with organizations running this project.
- While Mozilla is open to partnering with startups and consumer organizations on projects that could more clearly explain to people how their personal data is used, it will not be used to sell consumer data, or in a context. commercial at the start. .
- The Rally is open to any Internet user over 19 years old.
The neighborhood is watching
Historically, digital companies accumulating data such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon have made it difficult for academic researchers to access this data to study people’s behavior on the Internet. Recently, a few different companies have launched efforts to change this dynamic, many of them using browser extensions.
The Citizen Browser Project, which nonprofit media company The Markup launched in late 2020, installed an extension on their browsers so that Markup researchers could gather information about the behavior of different platforms when they were were using; Citizen Browser recently determined that Facebook is always recommend political groups to its users, which the platform has pledged to stop doing after the invasion of the U.S. capital on January 6.
Separately, Invisibility, a startup that initially set out to overhaul the advertising experience on publisher sites, is now working to develop a more targeted product designed around polls.
But at the moment, many of these efforts are modest. The Citizen Browser Project, for example, has 1,200 people, a representative sample but much smaller than the hundreds of thousands of people who make up some market research panels, or even panels of some advertising companies; Omnicom Media Group unveiled a consumer panel with nearly 2 million people at the end of last month. While Rally is available for many browsers, Firefox has about 7% of the global desktop Internet browser market share, according to Statcounter.
Although Weiss declined to share a specific number of panelists that she hoped Rally could amass, she said building something big enough to compete with a panel from a market research company was part of it. of Mozilla’s objectives.
Hold a mirror
The success or usefulness of Rally will depend on the size of its panel. And to make it grow, it will have to demonstrate a real utility to the people who use it.
“Right now we’re focused on what this community says it needs,” Weiss said.
For the moment, Rally aims to appeal to a kind of civic mindedness among Internet users. But as studies and collaborations with external groups become more sophisticated, Weiss hopes Rally will be able to share information with users about the behavior of everyone else on the panel, both as a kind of exchange of value and also as a way to understand the image that some of the biggest digital companies can and do get from their consumers. “In this world, it’s the aggregations of this data that people use to draw inferences,” Weiss said. “You versus an aggregate lets you understand what they know. “