Cookie Clearinghouse Director: ‘Surveillance Sales’ Will Have To Go

CookieTwo weeks after unveiling the “Cookie Clearinghouse,” a joint project between Mozilla and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society that would determine which websites are allowed to set cookies, Mozilla execs and CIS director of privacy Aleecia McDonald shed more light on the project today at a public discussion.

“This initiative is about creating a Web that people expect,” said Mozilla’s SVP of business and legal affairs, Harvey Anderson, at Mozilla headquarters. “We believe there are all kinds of constituents on the Web. We’re not trying to undermine those who are commercially driven, but to provide a Web experience that respects the consumer.”

The Cookie Clearinghouse will introduce two lists: one that will allow sites to set cookies for tracking user behavior and another for those that would be blocked. The purpose of the Clearinghouse is not to list “every single site on the Internet,” McDonald said. “It’s too hard for people to individually decide which sites to allow or block … We’re looking to get to a common point where most people are and let individuals manage those exceptions on their own.”

An advisory board that includes a privacy officer at Opera Software, a computer-science professor at Princeton University and a privacy engineer from Mozilla will work with McDonald to develop the criteria for the lists.

While the advisory board will include only a handful of members, the board will seek feedback from a user group and business council, according to McDonald. The board is accepting volunteers for the two groups.

McDonald argued the Cookie Clearinghouse will affect publishers and advertisers only minimally.

“Behaviorally based advertising is in the single digits of number of ads that are currently shown online,” she maintained. “The hope for the Cookie Clearinghouse is to have a situation where advertising continues, but some of the tracking is limited for users who wish it to be. There’s still plenty of ways for users to make money online but the idea of surveillance sales is probably going to have to be replaced with permission marketing.”

The goal is to roll out the lists within a few months for browsers and other interested parties to begin testing, McDonald added.

Prior to working on the Clearinghouse, McDonald was a co-chair of the World Wide Web Consortium, charged with creating a Do Not Track browser mechanism. After what many described as a divisive and unfruitful process, she stepped down last year and was replaced with Peter Swire, a privacy professional and experienced negotiator.

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