Skip to comments.Mozilla Comes under Attack - and of Age
Posted on 07/21/2013 12:03:09 PM PDT by ShadowAce
Back in March, I wrote about the odd little attack by the European arm of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) on Mozilla's plans to put control of cookies firmly in the hands of users. Alas, the IAB seems not to have come to its senses since then, but has instead doubled down, and launched one of the most bizarre assaults on Mozilla and the open Web that I have ever read. I warmly recommend you to read it - I suspect you will find it as entertaining in its utter absurdity as I do.
It's entitled "Has Mozilla Lost Its Values?", which is strange, because what follows is a rambling moan about precisely those values, and Mozilla for daring to adhere to them. As you might expect, Mozilla has not "lost its values", it's defending them here just as it has always defended them. Here's the central argument of the IAB piece.
At first blush, Mozillas ideology seems inarguable. We simply believe that when personal data is collected to deliver these [personalized Internet] services, the collection should be done respectfully and with the consent of the consumer, the company said on its Mozilla Blog on May 10. Its decision to block third-party cookies by default was made to strike a better balance between personalized ads and the tracking of users across the Web without their consent.
Seemingly benign, Mozillas ideology is weighted down with counter-historical presumptions. The entire marketing-media ecosystem has subsisted on purchase-behavior data and other forms of research being available without individuals consent. R.L. Polk & Co. receives automotive ownership data from some 240 sources, including state governments, auto manufacturers, and financing companies, to create profiles of nearly every vehicle on the road and the people driving them. This data has been central both to the health of the auto industry and to improvements in cars, driving, and auto safety over the years.
Got that? Because the car industry has been able "to create profiles of nearly every vehicle on the road and the people driving them", who obviously have no say in the matter, it follows that Mozilla should not be allowed to give Web users the ability to choose whether or not similar profiles are created online. This shows where the IAB is coming from: the analogue past, when advertisers could essentially do whatever they liked, because big business ruled. Today, the online world for the first time makes the relationship between consumer and seller a little more even. And the IAB doesn't like that one little bit. Here's what it claims would happen:
Were such sources of data suddenly to become unavailable - or if they were to shift from default-available to default-closed - whole industries would suffer, and along with them the people they employ and the communities in which they operate.
Or maybe the better ones would simply evolve to be more respectful of what their customers want, instead of arrogantly assuming they have a right to use all the information they gather without further ado. I think it's called the free market, where the public gets to choose the winners, who make money from serving it, and the others who don't, fall by the wayside.
Here, according to the IAB, is why blocking third-party cookies is wrong (and remember that Mozilla is not proposing a total ban, simply to give users more control over which third-party cookies are allowed):
Blocking third-party cookies by default is neither better nor worse than allowing them by default - but it does reflect a value judgment which affirms that the sanctity of the individual, in any way he or she chooses, transcends all other values, including important functions of civil society.
Er, well, yes, that's exactly what Mozilla is trying to do - affirming the right of individuals to choose how their personal data is used online. Is that so unreasonable?
The IAB thinks it is - nay, worse, it is un-American and unpatriotic;
Consider, for example, the role of commerce - the freedom to engage in which was a fundamental spark to the American Revolution.
So the American Revolution was about the right to make a profit, not about liberty and all that stuff. Gosh, we live and learn.
Although it may not be as apparent as when a customer enters a physical store, visiting a web site is a commercial act, during which a value exchange occurs. Consumers receive content, and in exchange are delivered advertising. The value of the delivered ad is currently calculated based on two essential points of data - where the ad is being delivered, and to whom. By blocking third-party cookies by default, Mozilla is turning off the anonymized but behaviorally relevant who signal, thereby reducing the value of most ads.
Well, if the value of ads depends on "to whom", then it's hardly anonymised, is it? And that's one of the biggest worries of these immense webs of third-party cookies: that put together, they essentially allow individual users to be identified, along with their most intimate browsing and buying habits.
But according to the IAB, truly anonymised Web use is little better than stealing:
The user effectively has been granted a right to engage in a commercial transaction without anyone knowing anything about that transaction, including the other party to the transaction. This social decision carries costs.
So what would be the consequence of this anonymous "transaction"?
consumers and businesses will shoulder higher prices, in the form of more ads, more intrusively delivered. Or they will pay more for content. Or they will be asked for more explicitly personal information in return for the content.
Well, maybe paying for content would be a better model in some cases. And certainly being asked for personal information is better than having it gathered surreptitiously by hundreds of third party cookies - remember that Mozilla's privacy lead found that visiting just four sites caused 300 cookies to be loaded from 100 companies not involved in those sites - a staggering number.
This reluctance to evolve and to try out new business models is underlined by another section of the post that complains about the fact that users are choosing - of their own free will - to install AdBlock Plus, which is another manifestation of their desire to take back a little control:
In some markets, Adblock Plus is responsible for stopping as much as 50 percent of mainstream publishers ads, significantly harming their revenue stream. For small publishers, the effect is devastating. Niero Gonzalez, the proprietor of the gamer site Destructoid.com and a member of the IABs Long Tail Alliance, says that half his users are blocking ads. This means were working twice as hard as ever to sustain our company, he has written.
To which I would say: if half of his users are blocking ads, that would indicate that they are extremely annoying. Has he considered changing them so that they are actually add value to a Web site, rather than distracting from it? Similarly, have the ad networks that claim they will go out of business if Mozilla places control in the hands of users considered trying to use their power more sensitively? If they do, then people are less likely to refuse to allow third party cookies on their machine. If they don't, and they are blocked, they deserve to be punished for refusing to respect the user.
This is the central problem with the IAB's argument. It wants everything to stay as it was in the good old days of selling cars, when personal information was simply gathered and used without any thought whether customers minded. That was because there was nothing the latter could do anyway. Now they can, and Mozilla is simply responding to their wishes, empowering them to make choices they have been denied for decades. That is, far from "losing its values" of placing the user and openness at the heart of everything it does, it is affirming them in the area of advertising by offering choice and transparency there.
Instead of attacking Mozilla, and its user-centric philosophy, the IAB should be trying to learn from it how to respond to this new, open and user-centric world, so that advertisers and Web sites can continue to make money there. The insistence that third-party cookies are absolutely necessary is just laziness born of arrogance - that advertisers have a "right" to track every move of visitors, and a right to squeeze as much profit from that info as they can. But they don't have that right: they simply had the power to do that - a power that they abused.
This assault on Mozilla and its values by a powerful business group like the IAB does have a positive aspect, though. It shows that from being a worthy but slightly obscure collection of geeks toiling away on issues mainly of interest to the technical community, Mozilla has grown to become so influential in the real world - the world of big money and serious profits - that it is being pilloried and demonised in this way. That's a compliment of sorts, since it means that Mozilla has truly arrived.
“In some markets, Adblock Plus is responsible for stopping as much as 50 percent of mainstream publishers ads,”
That’s great because I use their add-on AdBlock, along with Self Destructing Cookies as a deadly combo LOL
I expect to be able to control both the horizontal and the vertical, simultaneously.
Advertisers will just demand that web sites using their ads install gateway software to make their cookies appear local, along with software that will block displaying content if ads are blocked.
That's exactly how most brick-and-mortar transactions work. Entering the store in and of itself isn't value I have to tender value in exchange for. If I want a gallon of milk, that IS value, but the only value I must offer in exchange is the posted price of the milk, in money, not personal information.
Using traditional commerce as an analogy is a mistake for these people. The stores trying to hop onto the spy-on-your-customer bandwagon with loyalty cards are the ones who are out of order, not the customer who expects his purchase to be anonymous as it historically has been. And -- there are plenty of stores that don't insult the dignity and intelligence of their customer base in that way, including the bane of any liberal, Wal*Mart, and a store that I suspect is disproportionately staffed and patronized by liberals, Trader Joes.
Which the browser makers could hopefully defeat by pretending to accept them and/or accepting them for the duration of browsing that site and then delete them, which would limit their snoop value.
Unfortunately you are right. That will take a while to become the norm, but it’s already happening some.
The reverse will also happen in response, where ads (if they can be identified as ads) will be accessed but not actually displayed. It will keep the display looking clean, but will tax connections with ad traffic anyway, and will pass through tracking information to the advertisers. They won’t get any clicks though!
Somebody’s got to pay for “free” Internet, no? Let the advertisers do it, you don’t have to take the bait. I never do.
It will be an arms race between ad blockers, and ad makers who will try to make it hard for software to distinguish ads from content.
Mozilla - the antithesis of the Goggle-Micrsoft-Apple-FB-et-al business paradigm - a privatized big brother,
I almost always use FireFox with AdBlock & NoScript, and am always shocked when I use IE. The pages are just covered up with ads! Flashing, blinking, loading, using up bandwidth that I pay to use.
Who has “free” Internet? I pay for mine. I don’t want uninvited ads on bandwidth I paid for.
Well, I’m not talking about ad-blocking so much as cookie blocking, which is what the original article was up in arms about. I don’t see how they can make cookies indistinguishable from content (although, while I am a programmer, I don’t know much about web standards).
No, Captain Obvious, you are paying for the connection to Internet. What’s then displayed on the screen is “free”.
Ghostery works pretty well, also.
If those people want my business, then they put content on the web. Otherwise, I don't know about them, and they get no business. The ads are just fluff that I block out.
Cable TV, you pay for content and the connection. Internet we pay for connection and the content from the provider whatever that might be. Free content can be had at restaurants, cafes, libraries, Greyhound bus terminals. I’m not against blocking ads, especially since I’m seeing ads for local businesses when I visit foreign sites. But with popup blocking working most of the time, I can tolerate it all. I’ve also found that SUPERAntiSpyware program, run a couple of times a week, will zap hundreds of ad cookies that other spyware programs leave alone.
Right. I go into a store and buy a soda and pay cash - they wont know me from Adam. They definitely do not get to follow me everywhere I go afterwards
So I guess you never give them your grocery card to save the extra money on the purchase?
Our local grocery store does it right.
While their regular prices are okay, the prices using the loyalty card are great. Additionally, once a month we receive an envelope in the mail with coupons for stuff we actually use.
To top it all off, we get ten cents off per gallon of gas for every 100 points or $100 we spend. You can also get extra points for bringing your own grocery bags. Since my grocery bags have my company logo on them, I don’t mind at all.
All in all it is a win-win. They get the buying pattern info they want, I get cheaper groceries and gas.
Well, I try to avoid stores that disrespect their customers, yeah. When that’s not feasible, they’ll usually let you enter a phone number in lieu of using the physical card, so I give them a fake one and make sure to pay cash. If you use a debit or credit card, there’s nothing to stop them from tracking on that instead of the loyalty card.