Firefox to introduce ads in a sacred space: the search bar

Firefox Suggest masquerades as a more efficient browsing experience.


Integrated advertising leaves no stone unturned. Sometimes it can be fairly innocuous, like when product placement is hamfisted into a movie. Or it can be more invasive, like these Uber tablets that display ads based on a rider’s age and gender. Regardless of how you receive targeted ads, there are a few safe havens — your browser’s search bar being one. Firefox aims to change that with the rollout of its Firefox Suggest feature, which introduces sponsored suggestions in your address bar.

While I can’t imagine anyone would be pleased with underwear recommendations when they’re trying to access the internet, Mozilla claims that Suggest will “serve as a trustworthy guide to the better web, surfacing relevant information and sites to help you accomplish your goals.”

The new feature will begin with Firefox version 92 and will be limited to users in the U.S. Sponsored advertisements will come from the company’s collection of trusted partners and “no new data is collected, stored, or shared to make these new recommendations.” While address bar suggestions have always been part of the browser experience, those suggestions were based on browsing history, bookmarks, and the search engine itself.

Contextual Suggestions — In order to receive contextual suggestions or sponsored recommendations, users will have to activate the new feature through a notification prompt. For those who absentmindedly accept whatever service updates come their way, disabling the contextual suggestions is a simple process:

  • In the Menu bar at the top of the screen, click Firefox and select Preferences
  • Select Privacy & Security on the left and go down to the Address Bar — Firefox Suggest section
  • To enable or disable contextual suggestions, select or deselect the checkbox next to Contextual suggestions

Now onto the whole issue of privacy — when contextual suggestions are enabled, Mozilla will collect and send your search queries and the result you click to its partners. Granted, this will only occur when you actually click on a Firefox Suggest result.

Despite all my hand-wringing, I don’t think the rollout of Firefox Suggest is all that terrible, especially considering it’s optional rather than a permanent fixture for the browser. If you really feel like a good Samaritan and are fine with the never-ending inundation of advertisements, you can enable the feature, as Firefox claims it will “help fund development and optimization.” You’d be a better person than I am.