Introducing the Add-ons for Privacy Research Project


There are numerous extensions for security and privacy on the Firefox Add-ons page, but little is understood about how they foster advocacy [1]. The project “Add-ons for Privacy: Open Source Advocacy Tactics for Internet Health” (Ao4P) will explore how privacy relevant add-ons—created by both corporate and community-based developers—are contributing to enhancing the world’s Internet health through open source advocacy. Privacy relevant add-ons, refer to any plug-ins that extend the functionality of a browser to block advertisements, manage passwords, or execute other functions relevant to privacy. The Ao4P project is informed by social constructivist theories of technology, which explore how values are enacted through development, in parallel to traditional politics.

The Ao4P project is guided by an overarching research question: How do add-on developers advocate for privacy and internet health by leveraging the open web as a decentralized innovation context? The Ao4P project is inspired by notable browser add-ons for privacy, which demonstrate privacy advocacy. In 2009, the TACO add-on served as a prototype for the Do Not Track header, later included in browsers across the web [2]. More recently, the Lightbeam add-on, used data visualization to make third party tracking understandable to users [3].


To answer the research question, Ao4P will utilize a predominantly qualitative methodology involving internet ethnography and interviewing. The sample of privacy add-ons and interviewees for Ao4P will be purposively sampled.

The first phase of the research will begin with a internet ethnography of 30 significant privacy relevant add-ons that are available for Firefox or other browsers. Webpages and other public sources will be collected for analysis. Expected add-ons to capture in the sample include designs by advocacy organizations, add-on designs by companies, as well as independently developed add-ons by lone developers. In the second phase of this research, 30 interviews will be conducted with developers or other knowledgeable experts about privacy add-ons. The interviews will explore conceptualizations of privacy, the role of open source in privacy advocacy, and the advocacy tactics practiced by developers. Materials from the internet ethnography (e.g., web pages describing add-ons), and interview transcripts will be coded, using qualitative data analysis, to build a framework of privacy advocacy tactics relevant to add-ons.


The project aims to develop a framework of privacy advocacy tactics, enacted through add-on development, and supported by open source culture with the web as a platform. The version 1.0 of the framework will be released through a Creative Commons licensed webpage and build upon relevant multi-disciplinary research. At present, Bennett’s research on privacy advocacy strategies [4], Coleman and Kelty’s research into open source politics [5, 6] and scholarly explorations of advocacy in digitally mediated society [7, 8, 9] require expansion. The Ao4P project will contribute to knowledge concerning the advocacy tactics for privacy that are facilitated through open source and communicate the results to Mozilla, the general public and targeted scholarly communities.



[1] Mozilla. (n.d.). Add-ons.   Retrieved from

[2] Soghoian, C. (2011). The history of the Do Not Track header [blog]. Slight paranoia. Retrieved from

[3] Mozilla. (n.d.). Shine a light on who’s watching you. Lightbeam for Firefox. Retrieved from

[4] Bennett, C. J. (2008). The privacy advocates: Resisting the spread of surveillance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[5] Coleman, E. G. (2013). Coding freedom: The ethics and aesthetics of hacking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[6] Kelty, C. M. (2008). Two bits: The cultural significance of free software. Durham: Duke University Press.

[7] Bennett, W. L. (2008). Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[8] Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2004). New media and internet activism: From the ‘Battle of Seattle’ to blogging. New Media & Society, 6(1), 87-95.

[9] Obar, J. A., Zube, P., & Lampe, C. (2012). Advocacy 2.0: An analysis of how advocacy groups in the United States perceive and use social media as tools for facilitating civic engagement and collective action. Journal of information policy, 2, 1-25.