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How Do You Make Money off of Web Extensions, and Why is ClickMask Free?

Jake AndersonSep 11, 2018A hand giving a credit card to a computer

Web extensions, known on Chrome and Edge as extensions and on Firefox as add-ons, are little apps that can be added to your web browser to help improve your experience while browsing the web. Web extensions can be anything from ad blockers to price comparison checkers to games that are added to your browser. ClickMask is a free web browser extension that I developed for my company Sentim that removes clickbait links from every website that the user visits.

Two of the questions I get a lot from people who learn about ClickMask are: why did I make it free, and since it’s free, how do I make money off of it? After all, money is necessary to run a business. Actually, paying money up front is only one of seven different ways to monetizing a web browser extension.

  1. Paid extensions. Paid extensions are extensions where the potential user has to pay money up front. In general, paid extensions never sell if they don’t have a free version. This is because the add-on and extension stores don’t advertise paid extensions and most people are generally hesitant to pay for something that they aren’t sure does what they want. That is, people need to know that the extension does what they think it does before they spend money on it. Since there isn’t really a market for paid browser extensions and add-ons, I decided it would better to just have ClickMask be available for free.

  2. Affiliate Business Model. This is where the web browser extension refers customers to certain stores that the extension is affiliated with so that they can earn a commission for each sale the extension brings to that store. ClickMask is not trying to sell anything nor is it trying to direct anyone to certain websites, so this model doesn’t work for my case.

  3. Freemium Model. This is where the developer makes two extensions, a free version and a paid version, where the paid version has some additional features to extend their services for people who need more. For example, a grammar checking extension could have a free version that checks for typos, grammar, and syntax errors, and a paid version that automatically fixes these issues or offers plagiarism detection. The paid version is usually subscription based, so users would have to pay some fixed amount of dollars every month to get continued access to the paid product. While this could be a valuable business model for ClickMask, it has one big issue: what paid services could I provide that would be worth paying for while still allowing the core of the product to be free? I couldn’t come up with a paid extension to the service that would still allow the core product to shine as a free extension, so I just decided to not to have a paid version.

  4. Ad Injection. This is where the browser add-on inject ads into different webpages as the user browses. This is against most web stores terms of service, so these types of extensions tend to get removed as soon as they are reported. I really only mention it here because ads are a well-known way to make money on the internet in general. Ultimately though, I think that adding new advertisements to webpages or replacing advertisements on webpages with new ones while the extension is supposed to be doing something else is just a bad thing to do, and because of this, ClickMask will never inject ads into a user’s webpage.

  5. Sell Data. That is, the browser extension could record different aspects of how their users browse, what webpages they visit, how often they are on those pages, what they buy, and so on. Then, once they have collected a bunch of data, they could sell that data to different companies. These extensions also violate the terms of service and are also removed by web stores as soon as they are found out. However, it is not against the terms of service to collect data related to the extension. That is, it’s perfectly fine to have a bug submission form on the extension that also records the user’s IP address, browser, and operating system they are using as those are all things that could be necessary to fix the bug that the user submitted. Collecting data can get a little trickier than that as well, for instance, it’s perfectly reasonable for ad blocking extensions to collect information on what additional ads the user blocked to know what they missed, what they should fix about their product or what urls should be added to their filter. If the ad blocker decides that they want to then turn around and sell that list of urls of ad hosting websites, they can. Personally, I think it is morally wrong to collect and sell data about the user that the user doesn’t know the company is collecting, so I decided that I wouldn’t sell user information with ClickMask.

  6. Sell the Extension to a Company. Another way to make money with browser add-ons is to sell the add-on to a company. This usually only works if the company in question wants to take advantage of the extension’s current user base or needs the code behind the extension. An example of this could be a company that wants to get into the extension market but doesn’t want to spend the time and resources into making a new extension. While this could happen in the future with ClickMask, there are no current plans to sell the add-on to a company, as it still has lots of room to grow and develop.

  7. Donations. This is where after the add-on is installed it asks for a donation or asks the user to pay what they want for it.

Ultimately, I went with using donations for ClickMask because it seemed like it was the best fit among the options for making money with the product while still being moral.