Right now, the web is full of free services that are supported by advertising–and collecting and monetizing data about you. But as people have become more aware of the privacy problems inherent in a system where the primary currency is personal information, paying for the web services that value your privacy starts to sound a lot more appealing.
Mozilla–a company that’s owned by a nonprofit that focuses on protecting the free and open internet–has positioned itself as a privacy-first alternative to its data-hungry competitors, making Firefox, its primary product, a leading option for people who don’t want to keep giving Google their data via Chrome. Now, as the German news site T3N reported earlier this week, Mozilla is the latest privacy-focused organization to play around with the idea of a premium, subscription-based business model that could help support that work.
According to Mozilla’s CEO Chris Beard, the company is planning to launch premium features tied to users’ Firefox accounts this fall. The move continues Mozilla’s transformation of Firefox into the anti-Chrome, where the focus is on privacy and security rather than collecting even more data on users, even if they’d prefer to remain anonymous.
Mozilla is trying to encourage people to sign up for a Firefox account, which will be the conduit through which the company can offer paid, premium services like secure data storage and a virtual private network (VPN), which can protect you from hackers when you’re on a network that isn’t secure.
“We’re deepening our relationship with you because we know you can’t go it alone anymore,” Beard wrote in a blog post last week. “With Firefox you have a partner who knows the ins and outs of the tech industry, but who is beholden to serving you, not shareholders. We’re optimistic that together we can take back power over our online lives.”
This is all part of Mozilla’s move toward providing a portfolio of services tied to its browser, like its hack notification tool Firefox Monitor, its password manager Firefox Lockwise, and a file-sending service Firefox Send. It’s not that users will have to pay for the browser itself, but that devoted users will have the option to purchase more subscription-based security features similar to Monitor that are integrated into Firefox.
“A high-performing, free, and private-by-default Firefox browser will continue to be central to our core service offerings,” said Dave Camp, senior vice president of Firefox, in a statement. “We also recognize that there are consumers who want access to premium offerings, and we can serve those users too without compromising the development and reach of the existing products and services that Firefox users know and love.”
Mozilla has been experimenting with these kinds of premium paid features since fall 2018, when the company tested out a subscription service for a VPN powered by an external partner, ProtonVPN. Though ProtonVPN was providing the service itself, users signed up through their Firefox accounts.
Many more people are familiar with Firefox than with ProtonVPN, but Mozilla can use the power of the Firefox brand to bring extra legitimacy to privacy-focused services that it has vetted and approved. For the premium features of Firefox, it is still unclear whether it will follow the ProtonVPN model, where Mozilla works with third-party partners, or if it will feature services that Mozilla has built in-house.
There’s a larger business strategy at play here. Currently, Mozilla makes money from search engines like Google paying for Google.com to be the default search engine for Firefox users. But the organization is clearly looking for new business avenues, and is hoping to use the recognizable nature of its brand to do so. As Beard told T3N, “We have a strong motivation to build deeper customer relationships outside the search business. And we believe that subscription services are one place, a vector we will explore.”