The battle between the ad industry and digital-privacy wonks is about to get even more contentious. When Mozilla unveiled plans last month to include a default setting that disables third-party cookies in the next version of its Firefox browser, the Interactive Advertising Bureau's top policy man in Washington called it "a nuclear first strike against [the] ad industry." He did so much in a tweet. Yesterday, a message sent to IAB members reaffirmed the stance.
Last week, Mozilla announced their intention to block third-party cookies by default in upcoming releases of Firefox. IAB strongly opposes this action. Mozilla's move is harmful to the ad-supported internet across a number of dimensions. Blocking third-party cookies by default is bad for the economy -- hurting everyone from big companies to the growing long tail of "mom and pop" small businesses dependent on digital advertising. It is bad for users, potentially denying them access to ad-supported content and services. And ultimately, it is bad for consumer privacy. This action would break existing consumer choice mechanisms such as the Digital Advertising Alliance opt-out tool.
The missive came from Mike Zaneis, the IAB's senior VP and general counsel, who leads the digital ad industry trade group's small staff in D.C.
The Firefox patch allows first-party cookies, but would only enable third-party cookies when their originator already has at least one cookie set, according to a description by the patch's developer, online-privacy-tech stalwart and Stanford University computer science and law grad student Jonathan Mayer.
"The big issue to cover here with the patch is the anticompetitive issue," stated Daniel Jaye, CEO of Korrelate, a firm that measures how online advertising affects offline sales. "The patch allows portals who operate ad networks to read and set additional cookies after they have set a first party cookie," so, Mr. Jaye suggested, firms that already have first-party cookies set, such as Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Flash-maker Adobe could have a competitive advantage over smaller publishers and networks.
"In the long run if this becomes adopted by [Google] Chrome and [Microsoft] IE … you could see a world where the only data-enabled third party networks are those owned by the large first parties," he added.
Third-party cookies, of course, are the lifeblood of the complex digital-ad industry, used by publishers and their partners for consumer-behavioral-data collection, ad targeting and site and advertising measurement and analytics. Apple's own approach to third-party tracking in its Safari browser was an impetus for the Mozilla decision, wrote Alex Fowler, the company's privacy and public-policy lead.
The backstory: Efforts by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) to develop a standard approach to do-not-track technology are in a holding pattern, according to members of the working group tasked with the mission. Mozilla's move has been viewed by some to be a result of the stalled W3C process.
More contention began brewing earlier this week when industry lawyer and Tracking Protection Working Group member Alan Chapell complained that a recent extension of the body's charter until April 2014 was implemented without discussion and "despite clear objections raised by TPWG members."
When Ad Age originally reported Mozilla's plans to add the patch disabling third-party cookies, it was suggested that industry could collectively ignore the setting, as it did in response to Microsoft's default Do Not Track signal. However, Firefox's tool simply would not allow third party cookies at all. "The third party data companies will simply not be able to track users across sessions. This is much more comprehensive than IE's approach with DNT. And it's likely that IE and Chrome will follow suit," wrote Eric Picard, CEO of Rare Crowds in a comment on the original article.