A move by Netscape Communications Corp. may settle a major
debate between online advertisers and Internet privacy
advocates over the use of the Web personalization tool known as "cookies."
Netscape said the next version of the Netscape Navigator
browser will still accept all types of cookies, enabling ad
management companies, ad networks and publishers to continue using
them to deliver targeted ads and content to Net users.
target="_blank">SearchAdAge.com for more related articles.
A proposal by the Internet Engineering Task Force, an
Internet standards group, had asked browser marketers to set up
their software to automatically reject cookies coming from
third-party Web sites.
The proposal would have severely damage the business
model of ad management companies that depend on cookies to
personalization or to track visitors at their sites would also have been
"We are not planning on making any changes at all to the
basic function of Navigator with regard to cookies," Lou
Montulli, protocols manager at Netscape, told Advertising Age. "We
simply will be adding the ability for the users to make changes to
cookie acceptance policies, if they wish."
In the current version of the browser, users can manually
change their "cookie preferences" to show an alert when a site
tries to deliver a cookie. Mr. Montulli said the next version,
Navigator 4.0, will offer the ability to reject all cookies outright
as well as reject only certain types of cookies.
DEFAULT TO COOKIES
But because the vast majority of Web users never bother to
change their cookie preferences, the effect on companies that use
cookies as targeting tools will be minimal.
Netscape's decision will certainly relieve the online
advertising community, which has been in a panic since news of the
year-and-a-half-old standards proposal started spreading this spring (AA,
The proposal, widely known by its ID number HREF="http://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc2109.txt">RFC 2109
HREF="http://ds.internic.net/rfc/rfc2109.txt">RFC 2109, would have had a "terrible" effect on the
business of ad serving company HREF="http://www.matchlogic.com">MatchLogic
HREF="http://www.matchlogic.com">MatchLogic, said Russ Yanda, senior VP for global business
development. The company allows advertisers to centralize
distribution of advertisements to sites across the Net.
employs them to control how many times ads are shown to any
individual, as well as for other personalization purposes.
Netscape's decision not to fully support RFC 2109 is
somewhat of a surprise: Mr. Montulli was one of the proposal's
original authors. But he claimed the point about third-party
cookies was added by the drafting committee against his wishes.
"I think we're doing the right thing for the users. But it's
a very fine line," Mr. Montulli said. "If we were to
unilaterally disable this feature, existing content on the Web would no
longer work . . . [Also,] sites that use [cookies] tend to use them in
a way that generates revenue. If you take away revenue from
the sites, then the users may lose their ability to go to these
DE FACTO STANDARD
Netscape's rejection doesn't kill the IETF's proposal,
but it does knock the wind out of it.
Although IETF suggests standards, it does not enforce
them, and Netscape's majority market share often dictates the de
facto standard for the greater market.
Netscape currently has about a 70% share of the browser
Microsoft Corp., the other leading browser marketer,
could not be reached for comment on the IETF's proposed standard,
but in March, Paul Balle, product manager for the Internet
Explorer, indicated Microsoft was inclined to adopt some of RFC
Netscape's decision may make moot two initiatives from
the ad community to mount a fight against the cookies standard.
The Internet Advertising Bureau has just started to survey its
members for their opinions on cookies.
Dan Jaye, chief technology officer of Engage
Technologies, meanwhile, has spearheaded a proposed amendment to RFC
2109 that last week was scheduled to go before the IETF. That
amendment was designed to mitigate the current draft's damage to
in a cookie?
|"Magic cookies," as Netscape first called them, |
are small files that Web publishers can save onto visitors'
individual users, to target advertising and to customize
the fuss all about?
|Contrary to popular belief, only the |
site that placed the cookie on a user's hard drive can access that
information, when cookies are used properly. But some say a "hole" in the
design of cookies could let rogue publishers collect personal
data that users shared with other sites.
Also, some privacy advocates believe that any
surreptitious file that publishers slip to users without their knowledge
|What's a "third-party" cookie?|
|Third-party cookies are sent to a |
user from a domain other than the site the user visited.
An ad network could serve a cookie to a user along with an ad
when the user visits one of the sites in the ad network. The
network could then reference the visitor's same cookie data when it
serves him or her an ad on another site in the network. Privacy
advocates find this objectionable.
Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.