A committee of Internet users and technologists offered a new cookies standard in February that is presently under review by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a standards body for the Internet. The proposal (http://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc2109.txt) encourages browser vendors to make the transfer of cookies much more apparent to users.
Some 72% of online users have never even heard of cookies, according to a survey of 300 people conducted by market research firm CyberDialogue.
Online publishers and ad management companies sensed an overriding anti-advertising tone to the proposal.
"What concerns us is the tone of the proposal, which is that advertising is not good for us, so we want to avoid it," said Sue Doyle, director of marketing at ADSmart, an ad network. "That begs the question, how is the Web going to be funded?"
Of particular concern to the ad community is one section that seeks to limit circumstances where a user visiting one site can be sent a cookie from a different domain.
For example, networks such as DoubleClick and ADSmart, which serve ads from a central hub to all the publishers in their networks, routinely send cookies to users along with the ad banners for targeting and other purposes.
The proposal looks to take control of the cookie away from online publishers and marketers, which primarily use the technology to learn more about users' behavior.
"The default assumption is that people using third-party cookies are doing bad things and that therefore they should be shut off unless someone decides they're willing to accept them," said David M. Kristol, a member of Lucent Technologies' technical staff and a co-author of the proposal.
However, opponents of the proposal point out that such restrictions would not only affect ad networks but also the advertisers who serve banners from their own domains onto content sites. Sites with multiple domains, such as CNET, which maintains nine related domains, including News.com, Search.com and Download.com, would also be limited from sharing cookies internally.
"It seems to me it's an extreme reaction from a bunch of people who are saying . . . 'We're going to convince you there is a privacy problem on the Web,'" said Jonathan Rosenberg, exec VP-technology with CNET.
Ad management companies are now drafting a counter-proposal.
Meanwhile, some executives acknowledged back-door efforts to lobby Netscape Communications Corp. and Microsoft Corp. directly against accepting controversial aspects of the current cookies proposal.
Paul Balle, a Microsoft product manager for Internet Explorer, said his company is listening to both sides of the controversy.
Although Netscape couldn't be reached for comment, the company is reportedly preparing to integrate key components of the proposal into the next version of