Firefox is rolling out a new experimental feature called Advance that acts like an internet tour guide. Basically, it looks at the user's browsing activities and recommends related stories based on that.
The feature employs machine learning to do the job, helping users surf the web more efficiently. The internet is a massive place, one that's so easy to get lost in. Rabbit holes are in every corner, and if a user isn't careful, they might find themselves several hours into reading about something they hadn't originally planned on reading at all. Advance helps reorient that tendency.
Firefox Pilot Test Program Unveils New 'Advance' Feature
The extension is part of Firefox's Test Pilot program, which allows users to test out features still in progress. It is powered by Laserlike, a machine learning "interest search engine" that delivers personalized content.
Once enabled via the Test Pilot app, Firefox users can browse the internet as they normally would, and Advance will then start learning about the content of the sites. After collecting enough data, it will start handing out recommendations a user may want to "Read Next" or deliver articles that it thinks they might like, placing them under the "For You" section of Firefox's sidebar. It's a learning process, and users can help: if they see a recommended story that seems off, they can flag it as boring, off-topic, or spam, which helps Advance fine-tune its algorithm and deliver better results later on.
Advance is part of Firefox's so-called Context Graph initiative, whose goal is to establish the "next generation of web discovery on the internet" and let users explore as many different sites as possible instead of revisiting their usual digs.
The addition of Advance can also be seen as an attempt to help users develop a healthier relationship with the internet. Nowadays, content is all over the place, and the internet has become too cluttered with useless clickbait articles and other sources of distraction. Advance wants to prove that there's a better way of wandering around in it.
What About Privacy?
Of course, there's just one problem: users have to compromise data privacy in exchange for Advance's internet tour guide services. Because the feature relies on machine learning, it needs to know plenty of information about the user and their browsing history, and not everyone might be comfortable with such a setup, given the hot-button data privacy scandals of late.
To quell panic, Advance does allow users to pause browser history monitoring. They can also view their history and request Laserlike to delete it. Those who don't care about potential data privacy concerns can go ahead and install Advance by visiting this website.
It's not the first time for Mozilla to experiment with smart recommendations. The launch of Firefox Quantum in November last year included a direct integration with Pocket, Firefox's acquired bookmarking service, which showed recommended stories in new tabs based on what's trending.