June 21, 2013
Mozilla has, for some months, been testing a new patch for Firefox that will substantially elevate user privacy by blocking third-party tracking via cookies.
To break it down, cookies enable third-party advertisers to view users’ surfing practices so they can better target individual users with ads that match their interests and online activities. This patch, however, will prevent them from discovering users’ surfing practices which, in turn, means no more tailored ads.
Mozilla is hard at work on the concept, led by its creator Aleecia McDonald from the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford. Dubbed the Cookie Clearinghouse (CCH), the proposal is still in the early stages of its development.
“Today Mozilla is committing to work with Aleecia and the CCH Advisory Board, whose members include Opera Software, to develop the CCH so that browsers can use its lists to manage exceptions to a visited-based third-party cookie block,” Mozilla chief technology officer Brendan Eich said in a post.
Although widespread use of the blocking is still some months away, the Digital Advertising Alliance is warning such a system “threatens to destabilize an advertising ecosystem that supports free content and services relied upon by hundreds of millions of Internet users worldwide.”
“We are extremely troubled that a single company feels justified in altering the competitive landscape of the Internet, not just for its own customers, but for all Internet users,” DAA managing director Lou Mastria said in a press release.
“We had hoped Mozilla would continue to work with industry toward a solution which preserves the ad-supported free Internet content that users overwhelmingly demand.”
The DAA has a program that the alliance says enables users to choose for themselves if they wish to take advantage of Interest-based advertising.
“Browser developers like Mozilla are enormously powerful, and as such bear an enormous responsibility for upholding the future of the Internet,” DAA general counsel Stuart Ingis said in the press release. “Stifling innovation in the advertising marketplace has direct, negative results on advertisers’ abilities to support diverse Internet content. By the time users start feeling the serious damaging effects of that stagnation, it may be too late to reverse it.”
Consumer Watchdog, however, is praising Mozilla for its actions.
“Most people don’t want to be spied on when they go online,” Consumer Watchdog privacy director John M. Simpson said in a press release.
“Mozilla should be congratulated for their dedication to protect consumer privacy in the face of extreme industry pressure. They have also demonstrated a justifiable concern about getting this right from a technical point of view and Stanford’s Cookie Clearinghouse was key to solving those issues. Kudos to both.”
Simpson also pointed out that Mozilla’s plans are nothing new — the settings in Apple’s Safari browser are even more strict about blocking cookies and have been for the past decade.
Mozilla is planning a public “brown bag” event July 2 at company headquarters to gather feedback on the CCH proposal.