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Mozilla ponders blinkers for your browser

Plans to mine browser history so publishers can serve you what you want

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Mozilla Labs has outlined an experiment it's conducting in improving the personalisation web publishers can offer readers who browse their sites using Firefox.

The outfit says it's been working on the idea since last year, when it “conducted a series of experiments in which a user’s browsing history could be matched with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking.”

In return for opting in to the trial, lab rats were offered “insight into how they spend time online.”

Mozilla Labs is now wondering “what if these interests were also available for the user to share with the websites they visit to get a better, more personalized browsing experience” so that “content creators and consumers could benefit from Web-based interests”?

Here's one scenario the outfit has imagined as resulting from this line of thinking:

“For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible.”

Some publishers have already pressed the API for this kind of thing into service, according to the Mozilla Blog, but the code is not in the wild and is being tested – technically and conceptually – as Mozilla figures out how people will react to websites that dynamically change content based on readers' past behaviours.

One example of successful personalisation mentioned in the posts announcing the initiative is The Guardian's offer to ensure its readers see no news about the birth of George Alexander Louis Windsor. That's a service many will doubtless enjoy. Whether such personalisation can result in readers choosing only to encounter lines of inquiry and opinions they already agree with, and therefore deciding to consume media that re-enforces their feelings rather than offering broader perspectives, is a wider debate for another day. Or the comments. ®

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