Net Neutrality for Web Browsers

Now that planning for Firefox 3 is well underway, Asa Dotzler, Mozilla Corporation’s Director of Community Development, has restarted the public discussion about what features should remain, go, or be added in future releases of Firefox. Among other questionable ideas, such as removing the “View Page Source” feature and “Character Encoding” menus from Firefox’s default build, he suggests that a version of AdBlock be included.

While I respect the idea that people should view content as they want to, such a decision by Mozilla could take us down a slippery path towards moderated content for two reasons:

First of all, this is impeding on a fundamental relationship between content publishers and their viewers. The web browser’s job is to simply deliver content between the two. Who is Mozilla (or anyone else, for that matter) to unilaterally decide that online advertisements should not be seen? What process would the use to decide which ads to block? Keep in mind that this discussion differs from blocking pop-ups or phishing scams – those practices are undeniably harmful to users. Thinking beyond advertisements, should your web browser be making any decisions to block sites based off of their function or appearance?

Secondly, because much of the Internet relies on ad revenue, it would be quite irresponsible for an organization like Mozilla (whose mission is to promote the Internet’s continued health) to encumber the creation and distribution of content that’s funded by online advertisements. Publishers are able to make things available for free because of an understanding with people that advertisements will at least be passively seen, if not clicked. The vast majority of us understand that money is needed to create and deliver our web experiences, and that it can effectively come from ads. I hope that an organization as influential as Mozilla doesn’t make a choice that disables this immensely valuable process.

Of course, I’m not saying that people can’t go install AdBlock on their own choosing. Isn’t that what extensions are for in the first place?