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Glyn Moody

Glyn Moody's look at all levels of the enterprise open source stack. The blog will look at the organisations that are embracing open source, old and new alike (start-ups welcome), and the communities of users and developers that have formed around them (or not, as the case may be).

Why We Need Firefox

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Earlier this week, I reported on my travails with Firefox, and how I teetered on the brink of switching to Google's Chromium. Actually, I wasn't too seriously tempted, and thanks to the kind efforts of Mozilla, the problem has been resolved (see Update at the end of the above post for details.)

One thing I didn't mention there, but have written about elsewhere, is that in one important respect, Firefox is different from other browsers. That's because it's produced by an organisation not out to make as much dosh as possible, but to preserve and promote the Open Web. That, in its turn, leads it to take very different decisions from conventional companies. Things like this:

From time to time, we receive government requests for information, usually market information and occasionally subpoenas. Recently the US Department of Homeland Security contacted Mozilla and requested that we remove the MafiaaFire add-on. The ICE Homeland Security Investigations unit alleged that the add-on circumvented a seizure order DHS had obtained against a number of domain names. Mafiaafire, like several other similar add-ons already available through AMO, redirects the user from one domain name to another similar to a mail forwarding service. In this case, Mafiaafire redirects traffic from seized domains to other domains. Here the seized domain names allegedly were used to stream content protected by copyrights of professional sports franchises and other media concerns.

Our approach is to comply with valid court orders, warrants, and legal mandates, but in this case there was no such court order. Thus, to evaluate Homeland Security's request, we asked them several questions similar to those below to understand the legal justification:

Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)

Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.

Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down the Mafiaafire add-on is based?

To date we've received no response from Homeland Security nor any court order.

And thus, to date, Mozilla has not removed that Mafiaafire add-on.

This response is notable not just for its robustness, but the fact that it shows Mozilla willing to question the whole rationale behind such requests. In doing so, it is playing an important, wider role of challenging developments that are extremely dangerous for freedom and the Open Web. That is, true to its mission, Mozilla is looking at the bigger picture here, and not just worrying about its bottom line as most companies do (and are required to do if they are public companies.)

This, then, is the real reason to stick with Firefox: because the priorities of its designers are fundamentally different from those behind other browsers. Even if there are odd glitches from time to time – often resolvable, as my experience showed – it is important to keep this central fact in mind. Without Mozilla, the online world would be far less open – and we would be less free.

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