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Relax, Mozilla's Move Will Not Break the Ad-Supported Internet

As More Third Parties Elbow Their Way Into The Ad Business, Consumers Have Grown Uncomfortable

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Mozilla's announcement that the next version of Firefox, expected to go live in the near future, will include default third-party-cookie restrictions hit the ad industry like a thunderclap. Industry responses from across the board were cast in extreme terms, ranging from"nuclear" allusions to forecasting economic doom for the industry. Let me be clear, in spite of the rhetoric, Mozilla's decision will not break the Internet.

Third-party cookies have long been considered one of the most complicated pieces of the digital advertising puzzle. Consumers are increasingly aware of the privacy issues surrounding third-party cookies. Mozilla, meanwhile, has simply taken the matter into its own hands -- as Apple has done with Safari for the past decade -- by offering a market-based solution, the success of which will be determined by the consumer.

In its decision to block third-party cookies by default, Mozilla is differentiating between sites that have direct relationships with consumers and those that don't -- which is more likely to meet with users' expectations. Ultimately this is about fostering a healthy environment where consumers feel safe online. It's hard to dispute that without this baseline acknowledgement of consumers' expectations, our entire ecosystem will be compromised.

The industry -- browser companies, publishers (as represented by the Online Publishers Association), ad reps, and privacy groups -- is currently constructively engaged in an ongoing effort to develop and sustain viable self-regulated standards. Mozilla's decision has sent a very clear, very valuable message that now is the time to forge an ecosystem-wide solution that adequately addresses the needs of both consumers and advertisers. An entity like the World Wide Web Consortium's W3C Tracking Protection Working Group offers a promising venue to develop a Do Not Track technical standard, and has the potential to address these issues in a balanced way.

But beyond this, the shift reveals another deeply positive trend: Knowing a little something about the individual you're trying to reach with your advertising can enhance the experience -- if done in a consumer-friendly manner. Unfortunately, as more and more third parties have tried to elbow their way into the business, more cookies have been used and, as a result, consumers have become uncomfortable.

OPA members, which are some of the most respected and dynamic online content brands, enjoy a "first-party" relationship with consumers and take seriously their stewardship of the trust consumers place in their brands. And they have long witnessed the power and value that contextually relevant advertising offers (as it is the majority of what OPA publishers serve). It allows advertisers to leverage the unique bond between publishers and consumers because, after all, they create content that is relied on and returned to day in and day out -- the content people love.

With the Digital Advertising Alliance having established a self-regulatory framework and a promise to establish a DNT standard, Microsoft having turned DNT on by default, and now Mozilla blocking third-party cookies, many efforts are underway to address consumer concerns over privacy protection.

Although change can be hard for any industry, it can also be a catalyst for better content services and privacy protections in the Internet ecosystem, where consumer choice and transparency are critical.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pam Horan is president of the Online Publishers Association.
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