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Ad industry threatens Firefox users with more ads if Mozilla moves on tracking plans

Gregg Keizer | March 26, 2013
The online ad industry has attacked Mozilla over its decision to block third-party cookies in a future release of Firefox, calling the move "dangerous and highly disturbing," and claiming that it will result in more ads shown to users.

"They don't get that the Web works fine on Safari," Brookman said. "That's a tough story for them, that Safari users aren't complaining, that they're getting the content they want."

Mozilla acknowledged it was not breaking new ground when it announced the plan to bar third-party cookies. Eich repeated that in his email reply to Computerworld's questions. "Mozilla is not the first to propose this feature," Eich said. "For years, Apple's Safari browser has only accepted cookies from the websites users visit, which is the exact feature Mozilla is now testing."

When asked why the ad industry reacted to Mozilla's move, while it had been silent on Safari's identical practice, Jaffe only said that the ANA -- and by association, other advertising organizations -- has spoken out against all decisions it believes threaten ad-supported websites.

"Any group that stands between consumers and advertisers is misguided and unnecessary," said Jaffe. "We have made many statements making that clear. This isn't a fight between the industry and any specific entity, but a philosophical fight."

Computerworld, however, was not able to find any public statements by the ANA or the IAB taking Apple to task for Safari's by-default blocking of third-party cookies.

The industry's silence may have been based on the small share Safari has of the desktop browser market: Just 8.3% in February, according to metric company Net Applications' calculation.

But Safari is the dominant mobile browser, with a 55.4% share there last month. Net Applications data showed that mobile accounted for 13.2% of all browser usage in February, making Mobile Safari's contribution 7.3% of all browsing. Add that to Safari on the desktop and Apple's browser's overall share, both on the desktop and on mobile, was 14.5%, or within shouting distance of Firefox's total of 18.2% (Mozilla has an almost-invisible share of just 0.01% on mobile).

By ignoring Safari on iOS, the ad industry shows shortsightedness, said Brookman. He had a point. In the last 12 months, mobile's share of all browser usage has almost doubled, climbing from 7.2% to 13.2%. At that pace, mobile browsing will account for 20% of the total by the end of April 2014.

In the end, Brookman saw the ad industry's censure of Mozilla as another example of its determination to stymie change and retain the status quo. "They do want to keep the status quo," Brookman said, adding that advertisers only want to concede the least possible.

Jaffe rejected that. "We have changed the status quo," he countered. "We have spent millions and years to create the program."

He was referring to a self-regulatory program, which includes an educational website and in-ad icons that when clicked let consumers opt-out of behavioral advertising, developed by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), a collection of several ad industry organizations that includes the IAB and ANA.

 

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