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Let the Consumer Choose

March 14, 2013

In a dangerous and highly disturbing development, Mozilla recently threatened to block all third party cookies in its next version of Firefox by default. This is a near 180-degree turn for Mozilla, which criticized Microsoft only last June for turning on Do-Not-Track (DNT) by default in Internet Explorer 10. At that time, representatives from Mozilla stated, “If DNT is on by default, it’s not a conversation. For DNT to be effective, it must actually represent the user’s voice.”

What Mozilla misleadingly claims is a tool for greater consumer protection is really little more than one company imposing its will in order to control its consumers’ online experience. The Internet has brought an unprecedented wealth of free and valuable content to consumers, which is directly supported by the revenue generated by advertising. Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) uses anonymized data to serve those advertisements most relevant to a particular consumer’s areas of interest.  Consumers also have enormous control over the OBA process and can turn it off or on at their own discretion. This action by Mozilla directly undermines that ability. Consumers will not see fewer ads, only fewer ads relevant to their particular interests. As advertising revenues inevitably drop, the vast array of content that consumers have come to know and expect will quickly follow suit.

Mozilla’s initiative is extraordinarily counterproductive for consumers and business. If the company moves forward, consumers will be herded into a new browsing environment where Mozilla will make choices for them. Blocking third party cookies by default sends the false message to consumers that OBA is inherently bad without providing any meaningful background knowledge describing the innumerable benefits of being served relevant ads.

OBA Icon

The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has built a strong self-regulatory system with real teeth. Under its system, consumers see an icon alerting them to the fact that they are seeing a targeted ad. From that icon, they can access an educational system about OBA and are able to exercise the choice to opt out of further targeted ads. In 2012 alone, more than 5.2 million consumers visited aboutads.info (the DAA opt-out site) to learn more. Enforcement is handled by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association.

If Mozilla was right that consumers want to avoid OBA, then clearly opt out rates would be much higher than we have witnessed to date. Mozilla is apparently unconcerned with any real world consumer experience or behavior in attempting to impose its will on the Internet.

The DAA allows consumers to make an informed decision. Mozilla proposes to bypass that process and will inevitably undermine the functionality of the Internet. The DAA takes consumers’ privacy concerns seriously and provides them with the maximum ability to make a meaningful choice without presuming that it knows better than consumers themselves.

Comments   1 comment(s)

J H March 15, 2013 12:12pm ET

Unfortunately most advertisers did not agree to the voluntary Do Not Track terms. In fairness to the ad networks though, this is in a large part Microsoft's fault for turning it on globally as a PR lever against Google. Sad that it didn't work.

Anyway, Mozilla is left trying to protect its users against an industry that refuses to self-regulate.

If any user still wants targeted ads, it will be simple to re-enable third party cookies. Thus user choice is preserved. We are only talking about the *default* option here.

I really cannot understand the outrage when Apple Safari has been doing this *exact* same thing for years. It hasn't exactly made Apple products a failure.

In truth, the upcoming Firefox policy is even less strict then the Safari policy. So you should be happy about that.

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