The Interactive Advertising Bureau
a group that represents hundreds of Internet advertisers, has attacked
Mozilla’s involvement in a Stanford Law School privacy project to judge
whether individual Web sites can be trusted to set behavior-tracking
The IAB doesn’t like the Cookie Clearninghouse,
which Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society and Mozilla announced
on June 19. The project aims to rate individual to bring privacy ratings
for browser cookies
— the small text files that Web site operators can store on people’s
computers. Cookies can be useful for remembering that you’re logged into
a site or for not showing you the same ad over and over, but they can
also track behavior across the Web so advertisers see what Web sites
you’ve been visiting.
“The Cookie Clearinghouse will develop and maintain an ‘allow list’ and
‘block list’ to help Internet users make privacy choices as they move
through the Internet. The Clearinghouse will identify instances where
tracking is being conducted without the user’s consent, such as by third
parties that the user never visited,” the project organizers said.
On Tuesday, though, the IAB castigated Mozilla for its involvement, calling the clearinghouse a “Kangaroo cookie court.
“It is not a clearinghouse for cookies — it is a kangaroo cookie court,
an arbitrary group determining who can do business with whom. It
replaces the principle of consumer choice with an arrogant ‘Mozilla
knows best’ system,” said IAB Chief Executive Randall Rothenberg. Those
involved in the clearinghouse have “evinced not an iota of concern for
the publishers, small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of people that depend on Internet advertising for their livelihood,” he added.
Mozilla said the IAB can influence the clearinghouse policies and
suggested it work on helping users better understand its members are
doing on the Web.
“The Cookie Clearinghouse is an open project managed by Stanford’s
Center for Internet and Society, and there is ample time for interested
parties to get involved in forming its recommendations,” Mozilla said in
a statement to CNET. “We hope the IAB and other advertising industry
groups will work with us to make the online advertising process more
transparent and receptive to Internet users.”
The IAB’s attack is the latest in a long string of disputes about how to
balance privacy with user tracking on the Web. Much of the work has
taken place in recent months through discussions about a proposed technology called Do Not Track in a World Wide Web Consortium standards group called the Tracking Protection Working Group. That effort, though, has been fractious and hasn’t reached consensus.
Bureau CEO Randall
The IAB letter positions the dispute as a battle of David vs. Goliath.
“Small publishers, retailers, and other businesses” play the role of
David; Mozilla, a “powerful tech company” and “the lucrative nonprofit
Firefox browser controls 20 percent of the world’s access to the Web,” is Goliath.
It should be noted, though, that the IAB represents
plenty of Goliaths such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Nascar, and CBS
(which owns CNET publisher CBS Interactive). And in the browser world,
Google, Microsoft, and Apple are vastly better funded than Mozilla.
The current dispute concerns “third-party” cookies in particular.
First-party cookies store information for the Internet address of the
Web site the browser is visiting, but other parts of a Web site — an
ad-placement service, for example — can set third-party cookies for
other Net addresses. That lets advertisers track user behavior across
multiple Web sites.
Safari browser blocks third-party cookies and cookies from advertisers by default. Mozilla had been considering a similar third-party cookie ban, too, a move that raised the IAB’s hackles. But Mozilla chose to put the patch on hold
because of two weaknesses: false positives in which cookies from
first-party domains appear to be from third parties, and false negatives
in which first-party sites can place objectionable cookies.
The author of the patch, Jonathan Mayer, objected to Mozilla’s decision to put the third-party cookie blocking on hold, arguing that Mozilla was placing “advertising economics” over “long-demanded user privacy.”
But Eich snapped back,
“Users who want really hardcore privacy have add-ons, but those users
are few, and they do not buy into the paternalistic idea that we know
best.” And, he added, “No one has undue influence with us. As evidence
of this, behold how both you and the ad-tech folks (IAB) are both mad at
us right now.”