Following an open letter and petition from the IAB, Mozilla has essentially put its third-party cookie blocking technology on indefinite hold. It seems as though pressure from members of Congress and the plea from the IAB that, “if you act on your plan to block third-party cookies in your Firefox browser, thousands of ad-supported small businesses like us may be forced to close,” has finally had an effect.
Several months ago Mozilla announced it was going to implement a third-party cookie blocker to its extremely popular FireFox Internet browser. The announcement sent ripples through an ad industry increasingly dependent on its ability to track potential customers wherever they may roam. Rumor and speculation believed the release would happen by early summer. But then something strange happened. After months and months of testing the cookie blocker is still apparently not ready, and in fact may never see its way to public use.
The entire project is now on hold as Mozilla announced it is “committing to work” with the Cookie Clearinghouse initiative at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. That initiative is working on a more graduated approach to regulating third-party tracking cookies, however the advisory board of the initiative has not met in many months, will not have a draft of its plan until sometime in early 2014 and could take an additional 5 months of public comment and revisions before unveiling a proposed solution.
In the meantime, IAB submitted their open letter and petition to Mozilla and four members of Congress wrote to Mozilla’s Chairperson asserting the advanced cookie blocker would “undermine American job creation and innovation in the digital economy, as well as harm consumers’ online privacy.”
Mozilla’s Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of business and legal affairs, now insists Mozilla never promised to do anything more than evaluate the cookie blocking feature, but some people see this as little more than backpedaling. Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at EFF is quoted as saying, “The ad industry has a ton of people, basically lobbyists, who spent a lot of time trying to convince Mozilla this was bad for the economy. I think they were somewhat successful.”
So for at least the immediate the future, the Firefox third-party cookie blocker will not be available to the masses. As for how long it will stay in the testing phase, it looks like that will be determined by the strength and influence of the very large and clearly very persuasive online advertising industry.