Firefox Launches Extension That Recommends Content Based On Users' Browsing Activity

Firefox launches an experimental browser extension called Advance.

Available as part of the Firefox Test Pilot program, the extension uses machine learning technology from Laserlike to better understand users' browsing habits, in order to help them surf the web more contextually and intuitively.

Here, Advance analyzes contents on current active web pages, and identify common traits in the trusted sites they visit.

After that, the extension offers suggestions in the sidebar, related to the things users may want to "Read Next" from other websites. Advance goal is to encourage users in exploring the web, but in the way they prefer.

Users have the ability to flag and block articles they don't want to see. This way, the machine learning-powered extension can refine the results over time to get only those contents users actually care.

Advance - Read Next
Advance extension shows "Read Next" suggestions in Firefox's sidebar.

It also surface recommendations based on users' recent browsing history in a "For You" section.

In an example, Firefox said that when browsing, let's say, a list of popular restaurants, Advance can recommend other similar places to make it easier for users to compare them.

Advance's recommendations are personalized to the specific user. What this means, users with different browsing habit will see different Advance recommendations.

Advance - For You
The "For You" section shows recommendations based on users' recent browsing history

As with privacy concerns, machine learning algorithms need a lot of data to understand users' habit and build a database of recommendation based on that. What this means, Laserlike needs to know a lot about Advance's users browser history, which may repel those that care about their online privacy.

Mozilla acknowledges people's fears about data manipulation, especially following breaches of privacy and trust by companies, like Facebook with its Cambridge Analytica scandal.

For this reason, Mozilla puts security measures which give users the full control over when Advance is running.

Users can pause the collection of browsing history, see what browser history Laserlike has been granted, and able to request deletion of that information if they want to.

"We have also included controls so that participants can pause the experiment, see what browser history Laserlike has about them, or request deletion of that information," said Mozilla in a statement. "We’re interested in seeing how our users respond to their browsers having a more active role in helping them explore the web."

Advance - New Tab
When users open a new tab, the Advance sidebar updates with new "For You" recommendations.

To use the extension, users just need to download and install it.

After enabling the extension, users can browse normally, while Advance starts taking notes and learn about the kind of websites and contents users browse. From what it has learned, the extension will then show the recommended pages users may want to see on the sidebar.

Unlike Mozilla's sponsored Pocket integration, Advance's recommendations don't show a mix of paid ads and regularly recommended articles, at least initially.

This feature is part of the company’s Context Graph initiative that aims to enable the "next generation of web discovery on the internet", and allows users to explore different parts of the web, rather than visiting the same things over and over again.

The introduction of Advance also fills a gap left behind by the site StumbleUpon after its closure.