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When Google paid websites to promote Firefox

Having grown up in the 2000s, I love when I discover that something I presumed was banal back then was, in fact, part of some untold history.

I remember a lot of websites at that time said “this website is better viewed with Firefox”, or “download Firefox with Google Toolbar” banners. I mostly ignored those since every website just looked ok in Internet Explorer (sorry) and I also could install the Google Toolbar for IE — eventually, I would give Firefox a chance and end up switching, but that’s another history.

Ready for some nostalgia?

So, now I know that, in fact, it was not from the benevolence of bloggers that Firefox was recommended, but because Google was paying them $1 for every user they could convince to download the infamous “Firefox with Google Toolbar” browser since 2005 through an AdSense program.

The Firefox community received the referral program very well and even developed scripts to convince more people to switch to Firefox:

Home page of the script "Explorer Destroyer". The page is linked in this image. The page reads: "Explorer Destroyer. Ready to get serious about switching users from IE to Firefox? Get this tool for switching people from IE to Firefox. For each person you switch, Google gives you $1, Microsoft loses marketshare, and an angel gets its wings."

Google also sponsored Firefox in its search page home for a brief period of time:

Google Search home page showing a Firefox advertisement below the search buttons. The ad reads: "Firefox with Google Toolbar: tabbed browsing, safer surfing." Below that phrase, there's a screenshot of the top portion of the Firefox browser, highlighting the presence of the Google Toolbar between the URL bar and the browser tabs. The image links to the source of this image.

Of course, people back them thought that this kind of partnership could harm the open web, because — *cough* *cough* — Google had too many conflicts of interest with web browsers to be so close to one of them. How little they know…

Anyway, by 2008 the AdSense referrals program was discontinued, and getting your users to download Firefox was no longer an income stream for bloggers. At that time, Firefox already had about one-third of the browser market share. It was also about the same time when Chrome was announced, but this time Google bet on more traditional ad-formats, before going all-in and promoting it on the search page too.