Trade group: Firefox's cookie limits would hurt small businesses

IAB warns changes to Firefox's handling of third-party cookies would force thousands of small businesses to close their doors

The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) is taking Mozilla to task for experimenting with how Firefox accepts third-party cookies, warning that without third-party cookies, the Internet could become a "vast wasteland of irrelevant and repetitive ads" and "thousands of small businesses ... will be forced to close their doors."

Late last month, Mozilla Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader Alex Fowler announced that a new patch to Firefox's Nightly channel changed the browser's default behavior in handling cookies from third-party companies. "Users of this build of Firefox must directly interact with a site or company for a cookie to be installed on their machine," he explained.

The rationale for the change: "Many years of observing Safari's approach to third-party cookies, a rapidly expanding number of third-party companies using cookies to track users, and strong user support for more control is driving our decision to move forward with this patch," he wrote. "We have a responsibility to advance features and controls that bring users' expectations in line with how the Web functions for them."

Fowler said that he tested the old and new versions of Firefox on four websites: one that provides data on surfing conditions, a local news site, a major national news site, and a popular site covering the tech industry. When he used the older version of the browser, his machine ended up with 385 first- and third-party cookies. With the new version, his machine collected just 75 first-party cookies.

"I cleared all my cookies before visiting these sites and then re-performed this process several times, as I wanted to verify that in fact four sites did lead to over 300 cookies from more than 100 companies I had not visited," he wrote.

Mozilla won't implement the change in cookie-handling to Firefox anytime soon, Fowler noted. "It will be several months of evaluating technical input from our users and the community before the new policy enters our Beta and General release versions of Firefox," Fowler added.

According to IAB, a trade association for the ad-supported digital media industry, Mozilla's plans "to block third-party cookies by default" would have a severe impact on small business and would undermine consumers' ability to manage their own privacy.

"If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies, the disruption will disenfranchise every single Internet user. All of us will lose the freedom to choose our own online experiences; we will lose the opportunity to monitor and protect our privacy; and we will lose the chance to benefit from independent sites like RightWingNews.com LiberalOasis.com, MotherhoodWTF.com, and SuburbanDaddy.com because thousands of small businesses that make up the diversity of content and services online will be forced to close their doors," Rothenberg wrote in an open letter to Mozilla.

According to Rothenberg, small Internet publishers depend on cookie technology to sell advertising to niche audience segments. "These small businesses can't afford to hire large advertising sales teams," he said. "Advertisers can't afford the time to make individual buys across thousands of websites. The technology that brings these two interests together is the third-party cookie."

The IAB also said that blocking third-party cookies would "disempower consumers by eliminating their ability to opt out of receiving targeted advertising."

This story, "Trade group: Firefox's cookie limits would hurt small businesses," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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