(Credit: Mozilla Foundation)

If you're going to provide a product like Mozilla Firefox for free, you still have to make money somehow, to compensate the people who make it and the people who directly support the makers. In the past, Mozilla has relied on a partnership with Google, who pays Mozilla a royalty fee for setting it up as the browser's default search engine.

SEE: A buyer's guide to virtual private networks (VPNs) in 2018

When this program began in 2005, Firefox was the dominant web browser for Windows, but these days Google's own Chrome browser is king. As Firefox's slice of the pie has narrowed, so have those royalties.

In a bid to both strengthen its financial footing and draw from a wider range of revenue sources, ZDNet reports that Mozilla is now testing a partnership with ProtonVPN to sell virtual private network services by way of an ad that will appear for "a small, random group of US-based Firefox users."

ProtonVPN is a service from Proton Technologies, the same people who make ProtonMail, a popular encrypted email service. Many privacy-minded users favor because it doesn't keep a copy of your account's decryption keys -- unlike Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and pretty much every other major webmail provider. Only you can access the contents of your ProtonMail account.

With a virtual private network, you get an encrypted tunnel between your device and your destination website that your internet service providers (ISPs) and others cannot peek into along the way. All your ISP can see is that you're connecting to a VPN.

Anywhere you go from there is effectively invisible to them, which can greatly increase your online privacy. This is especially important in the wake of US legislation passed in March 2017 that makes it easier for an ISP to sell your personal data to advertisers.

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Firefox product lead Chris More says in the announcement, "Using a VPN service means placing a great deal of trust in its provider, because you depend upon both the safety of its technology and its commitment to protecting your privacy. There are many VPN vendors out there, but not all of them are created equal. We knew that we could only offer our users a VPN product if it met or exceeded our most rigorous standards."

Proton Technologies is based in Switzerland, and it has strict user data privacy policies like the Swiss banks that are known the world over.

There, the company conforms to Swiss privacy laws, where "we are not obligated to save any user connection logs, nor can we be forced to perform targeted logging on specific users. This allows us to ensure that your private browsing history does in fact stay private and cannot be turned over to a third party under any circumstances."

If you click on the ad's "Tell Me More" button, it will take you to a sign-up page where you'll be offered a ProtonVPN subscription for $10 a month, with a 30-day money-back guarantee. This is the same monthly price that Proton Technologies charges for its "Plus" VPN tier, and the company says that it's optimized for peer-to-peer file sharing and Tor network compatibility.

This subscription also includes ProtonMail Visionary. That's their highest-tier email service, and it provides 20GB of storage, up to 10 custom domains, 50 email addresses, priority customer support, and 5 sub-users. The website adds, "Visionaries will also get early access to future features and services."

In its own announcement, ProtonVPN says, "The Mozilla and ProtonVPN partnership is an experiment in finding new ways to keep Internet users safe while simultaneously ensuring that open source and non-profit software development gets the resources that it deserves."


  • Mozilla has announced a partnership with ProtonVPN where an ad will show up for for "a small, random group of US-based Firefox users," that invites them to sign up for the virtual private network service for $10 a month.
  • A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel that your internet provider can't snoop on.
  • ProtonVPN was hand-picked by Mozilla for its dedication to user privacy, and the VPN subscription also includes a premium account for the popular ProtonMail encrypted email service.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.