Industry Aligns Against Mozilla’s Third-Party Cookie Blocking Plan

FirefoxResistance to Mozilla’s proposed blocking of third-party cookies got a boost yesterday from the IAB. The trade organization released a statement from president and CEO Randall Rothenberg opposing Mozilla’s plan, and an online FAQ about the situation for those who may want to learn more.

In late February, Mozilla announced that for Firefox version 22, the browser is expected to include a patch that would block third-party cookies. The IAB argues this not only takes control away from consumers who may want to see more targeted online ads, but also would severely impact small and medium-sized businesses in the space.

Rothenberg encouraged Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Foundation to drop plans for this patch, which was designed by privacy advocate Jonathan Mayer.

“If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies, the disruption will disenfranchise every single internet user,” he said in the statement posted online. “All of us will lose the freedom to choose our own online experiences; we will lose the opportunity to monitor and protect our privacy; and we will lose the chance to benefit from independent sites…because thousands of small businesses that make up the diversity of content and services online will be forced to close their doors.”

Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich referred AdExchanger to its February 25 blog post about the proposed changes, noting that Mozilla is still testing and developing any changes to Firefox, and that “we hope to see more feedback from end users and the constituencies that represent them.” He also highlighted that the proposed blocking of third-party cookies was the same feature that is currently already a part of the Safari browser.

In an email sent to AdExchanger, Eich continued, “We are not instituting this change ‘in the next version of the Firefox browser,’ as the IAB claims, nor do we have any intentions to harm small businesses or the consumer online experience. As with all our new Firefox features, there will be months of evaluating technical input from our users and the community before the new policy enters our Aurora, Beta and General release versions of Firefox. This will stay in our ‘Nightly’ build until we are satisfied with the user experience.”

Mike Zaneis, SVP and general counsel of the IAB, noted that Mozilla did push for Do Not Track through the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). But, he told AdExchanger, “When they failed to get what they wanted there, they took their ball and went home and decided to impose a technical restriction on their user base.”

This restriction, he explained, will impact not only larger publishers and advertisers, who rely on third-party companies to sell remnant ads and track data and analytics, but especially small- to medium-sized online businesses.

“This idea of how it impacts the digital supply chain [is important]. This takes away the ability to measure the effectiveness of online ad campaigns, because virtually all analytics are done by third parties,” he said. “Everybody will feel pain, but if you’re just a small publisher, you don’t have an ad sales team or have the ability to knock on Procter & Gamble’s door; you are 100% dependent on third parties to sell your inventory. Those small companies are disproportionally hurt.”

And the IAB isn’t the only organization speaking out against Mozilla and its planned changes.

During an afternoon session at the 4A’s Transformation: The Idea Effect conference, Dick O’Brien, EVP, director of Government Relations for the ad agency trade group, interviewed Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen about privacy and the state of the industry self-regulation.

“At one point does it start becoming noticeable to the government that the unilateral blocking of the collection of cookie data is a potential violation of trade and competition?” O’Brien asked.

“Where the lines are drawn can have implications for competition,” Ohlhausen responded. “One of the things I have always been interested in is the value of advertising for consumers. And consumers certainly get a lot of information about lower prices and quality. So one of my concerns is setting up the regimes where there’s a big conglomerate that has control over a lot of data… I’m raising these issues, not answering them.”

As the industry raises these issues and brings to light its concerns, only time will tell how these opinions will impact Mozilla and Firefox 22.

“There’s a lot of time and process between now and when Firefox version 22 is supposed to come out,” Zaneis said. “We hope these arguments will be heard by the leadership of Mozilla.”

David Kaplan contributed to this piece, with reporting from the 4A’s conference.

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  1. This is a nice example of a clash of organizations focussing on profits/business (IAB and members) and Mozilla focussing on consumers. The feedback from the IAB is 90% business focused and assumes consumers want (targeted) ads. This trend about privacy (also look at FTC comments on mobile) is not going to go away. The industry needs to adapt instead of stick-in-the-past.
    Digital Media has always been about innovation and change – why stop now?

  2. This whole issue is a red herring. It’s not the sky falling, and it will be fine. Clearly people are not understanding the implications of this change. I suggest that while creating more work for the DMPs, through sub domain mapping, they can operate on first party Cookies. Ironically this puts the power back in the hands of the publisher, reduces the assymetry of data that publishers hate, and still allows all the data and targeting technology to work.

    The difference is that it’s ethically a much better position for the industry and it will force the Grey and Black hat companies either into the light or out of business.

  3. Eric I’m glad you make that point. Seems like a lot of folks (probably because they utilize so much of the google tech stack) don’t realize that with various ad delivery solutions you can actually create a first party domain with your tech, your cookies, and build a direct relationship with your audience. Publishers may have an increase in work at first, but this will actually serve them well in the long run (IMHO).

    • Hardyman

      Hi MaximumLLoyd: Guess who finances the internet? If everyone is ready to pay for the content they consume, the websites would not need the revenue from advertising.

  4. Handyman, thanks for your comment on my statement – “So if it’s the users choice; why should the default choice be yes for ads?”. But the reality is that to this day no one has justified it from the users perspective. Its not just about money but about a thought process that is abusive to our constituency.

    Consumers, Customers, Viewers are in a world in which every day they are bombarded with online advertising that is neither relative or of quality. I won’t go into what my views are on the privacy issue, the 3rd party cookie, the machine id, the data collections, at this time but all these issues are real issues to our constituents and if we forget that and we alienate them, will they not look for means in which they are not tracked?