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Mozilla apologised on Monday for an ill-advised viral marketing campaign that featured inappropriate references to cancer. The "wacky" "Firefox Users against Boredom" program featured a variety of off-beat "statistics" that compared Firefox and IE users.

Firefox users were 15 per cent more likely to have watched cartoons but 21 per cent less likely to have gone fishing than their IE using counterparts, the campaign said. Firefox users were also 23 per cent less likely to have cancer and 20 per cent less likely to live with others suffering from cancer. Suggestions that Firefox users were less likely to have heart disease also played to awkward silences.

The comments, presumably designed to be amusing, went down like a lead balloon. The viral campaign was given a good shoeing on TechCrunch.

Mozilla pulled the campaign for a rewrite after the controversy surfaced on Monday. The campaign was in a pre-release unapproved form at the time it was leaked.

Mozilla Marketing VP Paul Kim apologised for the gaffe. "The site was not meant to be publicly available and contained several stats, taken from a recent Nielsen study, that were offensive and in poor taste, as pointed out both by readers of TechCrunch and many people here at Mozilla," he writes.

"I want to sincerely apologize for this oversight. We hadn’t reviewed the stats before they were accidentally published and some of them are clearly in poor taste and humor. This does not reflect the views of Mozilla and we are working to fix this immediately."

The specially created "Firefox Users against Boredom" site remains publicly inaccessible, behind an authentication dialogue box, at the time of writing. Mozilla's standard marketing efforts focus on the Spread Firefox site.

In other news, Mozilla Corporation has promoted chief operating officer John Lilly to chief executive. Former CEO Mitchell Baker is moving out of the big job at the commercial arm of the Mozilla Foundation but will retain her role as chairman, where she'll focus on strategic issues including standards, user privacy and security.

Lilly joined Mozilla in 2005 after founding and leading software firm Reactivity. In a blog entry, Lilly said his main priorities will include shipping the next version of Firefox (version 3.0, currently in its second beta) and helping to launch Mozilla mail as a successful business. Baker said her successor was the right man to lead the firm. ®

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