IAB: Firefox Cookie-Blocking Will Turn Web Into 'Giant Spam Machine'

Lest there be any doubt, the Interactive Advertising Bureau made clear today that it doesn't want Mozilla's Firefox browser to start blocking third-party cookies by default.

"If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies, the disruption will disenfranchise every single internet user," IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg said on Tuesday in a lengthy condemnation of Mozilla's plans. "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 ... because thousands of small businesses that make up the diversity of content and services online will be forced to close their doors."

Rothenberg's sweeping condemnation comes in response to news that the upcoming Firefox 22, set for release in June, will include a patch that blocks some third-party cookies -- like those set by ad networks. Firefox's default settings will still allow first-party cookies, as well as cookies from third parties that users have a relationship with.

The statement marked the industry's first public comment on the issue since late last month, when IAB general counsel Mike Zaneis tweeted that the setting "would be a nuclear first strike" against the ad industry.

Rothenberg goes on to outline several ways that the IAB believes the cookie-blocking patch will harm users as well as online companies. One is that advertisers won't be able to engage in frequency capping or analytics. "They will no longer know how many different people saw an ad or if the ad inspired someone to make a purchase," Rothenberg states. "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."

Rothenberg also argues that many small publishers without their own ad sales teams will lose the ability to work with ad networks. He adds that consumers won't receive messages targeted based on their Web-surfing behavior. "It is the third-party cookie that tells content producers and advertisers whether you’re more likely to be interested in information about baby strollers or retirement planning services," he says.

The IAB chief adds that blocking all third-party cookies will affect the industry's self-regulatory program, which relies on opt-out cookies. Currently, people who want to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads through the industry's program can click on the AdChoices icon and then opt out. Web companies then set opt-out cookies on users' devices.

It's not clear that those arguments will be persuasive to Mozilla. For one thing, consumers can usually override default settings, so Firefox users who want personalized ads will still be able to receive them.

For another, if consumers (or their browsers) block third-party cookies, it's often redundant to opt out of online behavioral advertising as well. Regardless, if the ad industry wants to make sure that opt-out cookies work with Firefox, it can do so, according to Jonathan Mayer, the privacy advocate and Stanford grad student who created the cookie-blocking patch. He tells MediaPost that the ad industry could re-engineer its program to make AdChoices compatible with Safari (which has long blocked third-party cookies by default) as well as the new Firefox policy.

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4 comments about "IAB: Firefox Cookie-Blocking Will Turn Web Into 'Giant Spam Machine'".
  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC , March 12, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.
    While I do see the big downside to what Firefox will do, there is a giant upside also. Sweepstakes Today does a ton of business in "text link sweep ads". The same sponsors can run their sweeps with us (the ones we are not doing business with), do so at a lower cost, and get far more information, total entries and a higher SEO ranking. I know that a large number of my members have switched from MS Explorer to Firefox. This is because of issues with the Explorer browser which MS would not even fix dealing with password saving and Auto-Complete. Yes, I might lose, but I should gain a lot more. Isn't it time to start to look at the needs of the publisher? Mr. Sweepy
  2. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , March 14, 2013 at 7:36 a.m.
    Not saying this is a good thing, but such total over-reaction is severely damaging to the credibility of advertisers. Apple has been taking this action for years and the world didn't come to an end.
  3. Steve MC from GRUNI , March 14, 2013 at 11:11 p.m.
    I'm sorry but Rothenberg's argument is such a pile of crap. He should be afraid. I would be if someone was going to take away my easy money. Finally, who the hell would miss OBA? Most of the ads are irrelevant anyway.
  4. chris shirling from New Media Shop , March 20, 2013 at 11:36 a.m.
    Many small publishers will still work with ad networks, but ad networks will have a difficult time paying 35 cents to the publisher and charging $4 to the advertiser. Technology has allowed discount ad networks to thrive and ironically, it will be technology that puts them out.