Mozilla’s soul searching

It looks like you are using Chrome (or a Chromium-based browser). The struggles discussed in my article would be less of a problem if you switched to Firefox. I hope you consider doing so after reading. Chrome’s marketshare dominance gives Google disproportionate control over the Web as a platform. When you use Firefox, you tell website owners that Mozilla’s opinion about the future of the Web matters.

Yesterday, Mozilla laid off ~60 employees across its social, AR/VR, VPN, email privacy, and privacy monitoring service teams.1 The announcement indicated former CEO Mitchell Baker’s strategy to diversify the non-profit’s revenue sources failed. Baker funded this experimental product development in 2020 by laying off 250 employees and divesting some of Mozilla’s most used and innovative—but not revenue generating—assets.2

Mozilla needs a new primary revenue stream urgently. The majority of its revenue for the last 3 years came from a 3-year deal with Google announced in 2020 to be Firefox’s default search engine. No renewal has been announced. Since 2020, Chrome’s marketshare surpassed all other browsers combined. Google likely now can risk losing the traffic from the 2.5% of people using Firefox, especially when they are more privacy-conscious and likely using another search engine anyway.

There also is the question of if Google would want to continue its partnership with Mozilla. Google’s ad business is one of the biggest threats to online privacy. Mozilla has not hesitated to write, podcast, campaign, and block it. Despite the increased awareness of surveillance capitalism and its discontents, consumers continue to use Google search and Chrome because they’re great products.

Creating products people love is an effective way to influence the world with the values you hold. Making a great browser is the single most effective thing Mozilla can do to advance its mission of protecting people's privacy online and “making the Internet a healthier, happier place for everyone.” Mozilla’s decade of scattershot product development accomplished nothing to help sustain the development of Firefox.

It’s time for Mozilla to recognize it is a better non-profit than it is a business. (Legally, Mozilla is both.3) It has tried everything except embracing charitable giving to fund Firefox. There is no way to donate to Mozilla Foundation to support Firefox’s development today.

Firefox should be run by the foundation. If Mozilla gave up its search deals and commercials services related to Firefox, it would have the freedom to focus on its most influential work in the most mission-aligned manner. Mozilla Corp could still explore commercial offerings for non-Firefox-related services to support Firefox’s development, such as anything the wildly successful Proton is doing.

Firefox today has over 183 million monthly active users. If each of them donated $2.50 a year or if 20% of them donated $1/month, Mozilla would have more revenue ($455M) than expenses last year ($425M). This is not an unrealistic activation. While many of the people using Firefox cannot afford $1/year, there are plenty of people in high income countries who love Firefox or appreciate Mozilla’s role in shaping the Web platform. Annual charitable giving in the US alone is around $500 billion. I also suspect a large portion of people who purchased Mozilla’s paid services were compelled more by loyalty to the brand than the quality of its more expensive white-labeled offerings.

Mitchell Baker tried hard to flip Mozilla inside out as a corporation with a charitable foundation. Her near $7 million salary in 2022 reflected that. Chasing after AI hype with a potentially more privacy-centric AI product will not produce a different outcome for new CEO Laura Chambers.

Marketshare determines influence over the Web as a platform. I wish Mozilla had more influence, but staying present still holds Google and Apple accountable. Humanity needs Firefox to be its David in a fight against a Google Goliath approaching the ability to assert de facto control over the Web platform. Firefox enabled us to do our best work online for decades. Now is the time for its users to be able to finance its fight for us—if Mozilla Foundation gives us a chance.


  1. Cutting the investment in was shortsighted when it had a waitlist of people wanting to pay for it and when usage of the social web overall is growing over 100k people a month. Similarly, exiting AR/VR by killing Mozilla Hubs was poorly timed. I think it was a reasonable product area to invest in when Facebook declared it the future. If that future were to come about, Mozilla would not want the Web sidelined by a centralized, privacy-invasive service from Meta. Consumer interest in the metaverse has not yet equalled Mark Zuckerberg’s, but if any company can make it successful, it’s Apple and Apple just released its Vision Pro. Mozilla should be fighting for the Web in AR/VR because Apple loves its profitable, proprietary app platforms as much as Meta loves guessing which ads will make you buy something. ⤴︎
  2. Mozilla significantly reduced or eliminated teams working on MDN, Rust, and Servo teams in 2020. MDN was transferred to the Open Web Docs Foundation. Rust was transferred to the Rust Foundation. Servo was transferred to the Linux Foundation. ⤴︎
  3. The legal construct of a public benefit corporation did not exist when Mozilla was founded. Mozilla Foundation owns the Mozilla Corporation. Mozilla Corporation manages Firefox’s development and other profit-generating activity, which a non-profit cannot do. The corporation then donates its Firefox trademark licensing fees to Mozilla Foundation. Today, donations to Mozilla Foundation do not fund Firefox’s development. ⤴︎
illustration of a firefox being lifted up by a crowd happily

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