Mozilla Throws Privacy Cat Amongst Data Pigeons

By: Richard Beaumont | Monday, March 18, 2013 | Tagged: Firefox | Leave Comment

Remember the uproar at the end of last year, when Microsoft announced that it would switch on Do Not Track (DNT) by default with its release of Internet Explorer 10?

Now Mozilla are taking a turn in the privacy spotlight.  On the 25th of February they announced on their privacy blogthat they have built a 'patch' for Firefox that blocks all third party cookies by default.  They have made it clear that this change is deliberately intended to increase privacy.

Apple's Safari browser has been doing this for years, but their market share is tiny.  Firefox, with around 30% of web users, is in a completely different league.  It is generally accepted that most web users don't change their browser's default settings - so if this patch goes to market, its impact on online advertising in particular, but also many other types of third party tracking, will be huge.

Note the 'if' above.  Mozilla have been at pains to point out that they are still in the early stages of the process with it, so there is no timeline for release, or even a guarantee that it will be released.

This of course gives plenty of time for people to talk about the move, and throw up their arguments both for and against.  These arguments have been played out many times - generally as increased privacy vs. user driven preferences, and I am not going to repeat them here.

However, what is really interesting is that for the first time we appear to be seeing the beginnings of a divergence of opinion amongst the various parties in the digital advertising industry - brands paying for adverts, publishers showing them on their sites, and the ad. tech. companies providing the infrastructure.

This last group are the ones most directly impacted by Mozilla's announcement.  They are the ones who have invested most heavily in the third-party tracking ecosystem.  Without significant changes to expensive technologies, they risk massive loss of the data collection that is their life-blood.

Even here however, there are voices questioning whether this would be all bad.  Articles on Digiday andAdExchanger are quoting some major players who seem to believe that a change would be disruptive, but not necessarily all bad.

Essentially, the industry would have to switch over to models that rely on targeting ads based on the content on sites, rather than the behavioural history of people viewing the sites.  This will likely shift the balance of power towards the site publishers, putting more money in their pockets.  As they are the ones actually providing services that consumers value, this would seem to many to be a good thing.

Brands themselves also don't appear to be terribly worried.  They will still be reaching out to consumers.  It might impact how they do that, but it is likely that the impact of any move away from third-party tracking will be minimal for them.

The privacy tide appears to be turning.  Consumers are more aware than ever before of their exposure online, companies are beginning to look at the brand-trust benefits of increased privacy protections, and legislators are getting ever most insistent about better regulation.

It looks increasingly like 2013 is going to be a year when online privacy really becomes a mainstream issue whenever people talk about the internet.

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