Ad Industry Rails Against Firefox’s Cookie Tracking Patch
March 26, 2013

Ad Industry Rails Against Firefox Cookie Tracking Patch

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

When the new version of Mozilla´s popular web browser Firefox is released this June, it could ship with one particularly controversial new feature. Much like Apple´s take on tracking cookies in Safari, the new version of Firefox may only allow tracking cookies on sites which the user visits frequently. Otherwise, advertisers will not be able to track users who rarely stop by a certain site.

This decision has made the ad industry understandably upset, and they´ve since retaliated by claiming that Firefox users will only see more ads as a result.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Association of National Advertisers (ANA) have both made their feelings known about Mozilla´s new anti-tracking cookie patch, calling it “dangerous and highly disturbing,” according to a report from Computerworld.

“If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies, the disruption will disenfranchise every single internet user,” writes Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB in a blog post.

“If Firefox bans third-party cookies, the experience Firefox users will have online will change for the worse. Without third-party cookies, they will not be able to participate in the existing industry system for privacy protection. They will see an increase in the irrelevant spam advertising served to them, and they will lose the privilege of having content that matches their interests.”

Rothenberg then goes on to claim that Mozilla´s patch will hurt both consumers and small businesses. This is a common stance taken by the online ad industry. In the midst of the Do Not Track (DNT) controversy surrounding Microsoft´s decision to turn on DNT features by default in Internet Explorer, the ANA wrote a letter to Microsoft´s CEO Steve Ballmer urging him to reconsider his position.

“This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy,” read one portion of the letter.

Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) told Computerworld that some of Rothenberg´s complaints didn´t quite hit the mark.

"They talk about the small publishers, but it's small ad networks that they represent. [Even then], it's unclear how much small sites depend on behavioral advertising,” said Brookman.

In a February blog post, a developer who helped write the Firefox patch explained that this approach to tracking cookies is quite similar to Apple´s approach in Safari. The new Firefox patch will only serve up tracking cookies if the user frequents the site and navigates there intentionally.

“In short, the new Firefox policy is a slightly relaxed version of the Safari policy,” writes Mayer. It´s a point that the CDT´s Justin Brookman made to Computerworld. “They don't get that the Web works fine on Safari," said Brookman.

Safari has been blocking cookies in this way since the very first version was released in 2003. The iOS version has also worked in this way since its 2007 debut.

“That's a tough story for them, that Safari users aren't complaining, that they're getting the content they want,” said Brookman.

This new patch is available now in early developer builds of Firefox, though Mozilla has said they´ll continue to work on it until they´re completely satisfied. This means the anti-tracking cookie patch may never make it to a final version of the browser.