Safari, Firefox score major win under new CCPA changes
The California attorney general’s office released a second set of modifications for the state’s Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CCPA) some of which carry significant implications for the $108 billion-plus digital advertising industry.
Some experts say the changes, released Wednesday, empower browser makers such as Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox to further shape how consumer privacy will play out. At the heart of the issue is "do not track," a feature enabled by both browser makers by default that prevents companies from following consumers on the web. Although both previously enabled the feature by default, the ad industry has historically ignored the request and used workarounds to circumvent them.
Companies such as Apple are in the consumer electronics business and not advertising like Google. The company as a result has prioritized privacy in its marketing message across all products, including Safari. Others companies, such as Firefox or Brave, differentiate themselves from global market leader Google Chrome through privacy-focused features.
The browser market is lucrative. Apple, for instance, reportedly received $9 billion from Google to make it the default search engine in Safari, according to a widely cited GS report. Firefox, meanwhile, is a nonprofit and its latest figures say the company made $435 million in 2018. It’s unclear how much revenue Chrome generates, though the browser does help power the company’s advertising business.
“There is no law that says advertising companies have to respect ‘do not track,’” says Daniel Sepulveda, senior VP for policy and advocacy at MediaMath. “Now, you do have to respect it and any workarounds are illegal.”
Companies that violate ‘do not track’ would be fined once CCPA takes effect in July, says Sepulveda, who spent 12 years as a senior U.S. Senate aide for then-senators Barack Obama and John Kerry before joining MediaMath.
The move underscores a larger issue advertisers have with consumer privacy. Advertising mostly funds the internet, which is made up of a diverse group of companies with each having different business models and interests. The move by the Golden State's attorney general, however, allows browsers to decide what’s best for the consumer based on their own competitive advantages and interests, while leaving everyone else out of the discussion.
“Regulators have decided that the mechanism that funds the internet can be made by the browser or by the individual,” he says. “And the default is what people normally choose and it’s what controls consumer behavior.”
Sepulveda might be right. When Microsoft sold smartphones, for instance, Bing was the default search engine. As a result, more than 75 percent of consumers used Bing when performing searches.
“Browser makers controlling the future of the internet is not a good idea,” Sepulveda says.
The other major browser, Google Chrome, has "do not track" off by default. Sepulveda says it's unclear which option—on or off—is in the best interest of the consumer. "We haven't had that discussion yet," he says.
Hot button issue
Under CCPA, every page of every website must include a “do not sell my information” button that prevents publishers or brands from selling a consumer's data. Previously, the California attorney general mandated the button’s design, something many argued was flawed.
“The ‘do not sell’ button is what everyone is paying attention to,” says Caitlin Fennessy, research director at the International Association of Privacy Professionals. “There’s been a lot of focus in the industry, academia and society because the button is the first thing people will see and it will either draw their attention to interact with it or it won’t.”
Now, however, publishers and brands have more latitude in designing the "do not sell my information" button. The initial design previously had a toggle feature that may have confused consumers, says Fennessy. “Because of the design, clicking it would have the opposite effect of what it was intended to do,” she says. “It’s very difficult to capture context for all industries.”