Mozilla's "Do Not Track" browser stirs up concern from advertisers

By on June 23, 2013, 9:30 AM

Online businesses often rely on advertising to bring in revenue. Unfortunately, when tracking the activity of users in an effort to drive targeted ads, the line between innocent observation and privacy violation begins to blur. The use of third-party cookies is one of the easiest ways for a company to learn more about prospective customers; something that Mozilla plans to tackle in an upcoming version of the Firefox browser.

Mozilla first announced the “Do Not Track” feature back in February, but later said that it had to undergo further testing. Despite the ongoing hiatus, the company continues to face backlash from the advertising community, with many claiming that this will have a negative impact on the entire online network. Mike Zaneis, general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, called the new browser a “nuclear first strike” against advertisers.

It’s important to note that Mozilla does not intend to block all cookies, just those that are deemed undesirable. After all, cookies can be beneficial and serve purposes such as remembering settings for sites that we frequently visit. The company has been working alongside the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford to develop the list of websites whose data gathering priveleges will be axed; an initiative being called the “Cookie Clearinghouse”.

Aleecia McDonald, director of privacy at CIS, added, “The Cookie Clearinghouse will create, maintain and publish objective information. Web browser companies will be able to choose to adopt the lists we publish to provide new privacy options to their users.”

In response to the statement, advertisers argue that numerous online businesses, many of which are small web establishments, will cease to function if cookie-blocking browsers become the standard. However, this already seems to be the case; Apple's Safari browser carries a similar privacy feature, while Microsoft's IE10 has made the "Do Not Track" technology its default setting.  “It’s troubling,” added Lou Mastria, the managing director for the Digital Advertising Alliance. "They're putting this under the cloak of privacy, but it's disrupting a business model."

What are your thoughts on Mozilla’s new feature? Do cookie-blocking browsers pose a threat to the sustainability of the internet, or are ad agencies just trying to protect their own livelihood?

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