Mozilla yanks Firefox marketing campaign; users slam offensive stats

Apologizes for mocking cancer victims, says list shouldn't have been posted

Just hours after Mozilla Corp. debuted its first viral marketing campaign, it shuttered the Web site and apologized to users for what it admitted were offensive statistics used to promote Firefox.

The Web site, part of what Mozilla dubbed the "Firefox Users against Boredom" program, included a long list of statistics that purported to compare Firefox's users with people who run rival Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer (IE). Among the off-beat -- and unverifiable -- statistics that took shots at IE were those that claimed Firefox users are:

  • 15% more likely to have watched cartoons on TV within the last seven days.
  • 21% less likely to fish.

Also in the mix, however, were several that users called out as far from funny:

  • 23% less likely to have cancer.
  • 25% less likely to have breast cancer.
  • 20% less likely to live with others suffering from cancer.

Numerous readers of the TechCrunch blog, which first reported the marketing program Monday, objected to those statistics, as well as others that claimed Firefox users were less likely to have high cholesterol or heart disease.

"As a Firefox user who has cancer, I'm less than amused," said someone identified only as Zachary in a comment on the TechCrunch post.

Paul Kim, Mozilla's vice president of marketing, stepped in to do damage control. "There is no way we would have gone live with a site that mocks cancer victims if there had been a review of these stats beforehand," said Kim. "Something went seriously wrong with our content development process, and I'm working to clean this up now." Kim said that the site and the list were supposed to be locked behind a password until they had been checked and approved.

"Regardless of these issues on our end, the main thing is to say that I take responsibility for the situation, and again, apologize to anyone who was upset by this," Kim concluded. He also posted a similar mea culpa on his personal blog later in the day, and added that reaction from within Mozilla had also been swift.

"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," Kim said.

Some weren't entirely buying the apology. "Frankly, the excuse doesn't even make sense," said a user pegged as Tom Page, also on TechCrunch. "Saying that it was not meant to be 'publicly available' makes it seem as if these comments are only acceptable as a private joke at Mozilla. Caesar's wife must be above suspicion, and if something like this came from Microsoft, you'd go absolutely crazy."

As of 7:30 p.m. EST Monday, the program's Web site remained inaccessible to the public, blocked by a username and password authentication dialog. While it was online, the site featured an anthem, titled Rise Up, a link to Firefox's download and the list of statistics.

The campaign is a departure from Mozilla's usual marketing efforts, which has relied on the Spread Firefox site and the host of fans who drum up support for the open-source browser.

According to data compiled for December by Net Applications, Firefox accounted for 16.8% of all browsers that visited the 40,000 sites the California company monitors for its clients. Microsoft's IE share, meanwhile, slipped during from November's 77.4% to 76%.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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