Mozilla has released Focus, an ad-blocking app for iOS – but it won’t work with Firefox

Mozilla has launched a new ad-blocking app for iOS, going by the name of Focus by Firefox. The app lets users block trackers for ads and analytics while browsing the web, pulling an ad blacklist from privacy advocates Disconnect.me. Don’t expect it to work on Firefox or Chrome, though. Apple’s decision to keep the content-blocking application programming interface (API) private means it’ll only work with Safari for now.  

Still, mainstream ad-blocking just got a shot in the arm. In a statement to go alongside the release, Denelle Dixon-Thayer, chief legal and business officer at Mozilla, said that the company “believe[s] content blockers need to be transparent with publishers and other content providers about how lists are created and maintained, rather than placing certain content in a permanent penalty box”.

This seems to be a swipe at AdBlock Plus. Eyeo, the company behind AdBlock Plus, came under heavy fire for using that whitelist as a business model, with one prominent blogger accusing AdBlock Plus of developing a “mafia-like advertising network”.

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Mozilla has publicised the app on the grounds of greater user control. Nick Nguyen, VP of Firefox Product, said Focus by Firefox “puts users in control of their privacy” and “may also increase performance and reduce mobile data usage by blocking web fonts”.

While Focus may be pushed in terms of benefits for the user, it stands to have large repercussions for digital publishing – an industry currently facing an identity (or at least monetary) crisis as a result of the rise in popularity of ad-blocking software.

In her statement, Dixon-Thayer suggested Mozilla wants the app to encourage a discussion about the future of digital publishing. “We want this product to encourage a discussion about users and content providers, instead of monetisng users’ mistrust and pulling value out of the web ecosystem. Focus by Firefox is free to users and we don’t monetize it in other ways.”

A discussion will certainly be needed, because even though the company claims not to monetise users’ mistrust, the app’s success would nevertheless put Mozilla in a position of power over content producers.

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