Ad group: New Firefox cookie plan will boost spam

The Interactive Advertising Bureau blasted plans for Firefox to block third-party cookies by default, a move designed to better reflect user privacy concerns.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau ratcheted up its pressure on Mozilla's Firefox to reconsider its decision to block third-party advertising cookies by default.

The trade group, whose senior vice president tweeted last month that the policy was a "nuclear first strike against the ad industry," put out a statement from its president and CEO, Randall Rothenberg, detailing its concerns. He painted a bleak picture of the future of the Internet, saying that a vast array of Web sites would be shut down by the proposed change.

"If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies, the disruption will disenfranchise every single internet user," Rothenberg wrote. "All of us will lose the freedom to choose our own online experiences; we will lose the opportunity to monitor and protect our privacy; and we will lose the chance to benefit from independent sites like RightWingNews.com, LiberalOasis.com, MotherhoodWTF.com, and SuburbanDaddy.com because thousands of small businesses that make up the diversity of content and services online will be forced to close their doors."

News of the change came last month. It will come via a patch to Firefox, which should be released in Firefox 22 on April 5. Mozilla's privacy and public policy chief, Alex Fowler, wrote in a blog post at the time that the change is designed to reflect user privacy concerns.

"We have a responsibility to advance features and controls that bring users' expectations in line with how the web functions for them," Fowler wrote.

The new patch will allow cookies from sites Web surfers actively visit, but block those from third-party sites that haven't been visited by the user. Often, those cookies come from advertisers and are used to track users' Web activity to better target ads.

Firefox won't be the first browser to block third-party cookies by default. Apple's Safari already does that, while Google's Chrome and Microsoft's Internet Explorer do not.

The ad group's Rothenberg wrote that third-party cookies effectively level the playing field for small businesses that want to use Web advertising. Those cookies give them useful indicators about the delivery and performance of their ads. Without them, ads won't be targeted and will become more expensive and have less value, he argues.

"(Advertisers) will no longer know how many different people saw an ad or if the ad inspired someone to make a purchase," Rothenberg wrote. "In fact, they could accidentally serve the same ad to the same person 1,000 times and never know it -- to a person who might not have any interest in the product whatsoever. Without third-party cookies, the web will revert to a giant spam machine."

A Mozilla representative denied that there were any plans to institute the change in the next version of Firefox or that it intended to harm small businesses or consumers' online experience.

"As with all our new Firefox features, there will be months of evaluating technical input from our users and the community before the new policy enters our Aurora, Beta and General release versions of Firefox," Mozilla said in a statement. "This will stay in our 'Nightly' build until we are satisfied with the user experience."

Mozilla also noted that it was only testing a feature that has long been available in Apple's Safari browser and that its users have always had the option to enable third-party cookies.

Updated at 4:25 p.m. PT with Mozilla comment.

 

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