Publishers are getting a raw deal in the current online advertising ecosystem. The technology they depend on to display advertisements also ensures they lose the ability to control who gets their users’ data and who gets to monetize that data. With third-party cookies, users can be tracked from high-value publishers to sites they have never chosen to trust, where they are targeted based on their behavior from those publisher sites. This strips value from publishers and fuels rampant ad fraud.
In August, Mozilla announced a new anti-tracking strategy intended to get to the root of this problem. That strategy includes new restrictions on third-party cookies that will make it harder to track users across websites and that we plan to turn on by default for all users in a future release of Firefox. Our motive for this is simple: online tracking is unacceptable for our users and puts their privacy at risk. We know that a large portion of desktop users have installed ad blockers, showing that people are demanding more online control. But our approach also offers an opportunity to rebalance the ecosystem in a way that is in the long-term interest of publishers.
Publisher Pros and Cons
There needs to be a profitable revenue ecosystem on the web in order to create, foster and support innovation. Our third-party cookie restrictions will allow loading of advertising and other types of content (such as videos and sponsored articles), but will prevent the cookie-based tracking that users cannot meaningfully control. This strikes a better balance for publishers than ad blocking – user data is protected and publishers are still able to monetize page visits through advertisements and other content.
Our new approach will deliver both upsides and downsides for publishers, and we want to be clear about both. On the upside, by removing more sophisticated, profile-based targeting, we are also removing the technology that allows other parties to siphon off data from publishers. Ad fraud that depends on 3rd party cookies to track users from high-value publishers to low-value fraudster sites will no longer work. On the downside, our approach will make it harder to do targeted advertising that depends on cross-site browsing profiles, possibly resulting in an impact on the bottom line of companies that depend on behavioral advertising. Targeting that depends on the context (i.e. what the user is reading) and location will continue to be effective.
Curing Advertising Dysfunction
In short, behavioral targeting will become more difficult, but publishers should be able to recoup a larger portion of the value overall in the online advertising ecosystem. This means the long-term revenue impact will be on those third-parties in the advertising ecosystem that are extracting value from publishers, rather than bringing value to those publishers.
We know that our users are only one part of the equation here; we need to go after the real cause of our online advertising dysfunction by helping publishers earn more than they do from the status quo. That is why we need help from publishers to test the cookie restrictions feature and give us feedback about what they are seeing and what the potential impact will be. The technical documentation for these cookie restrictions can be found here. To test this feature in Firefox 65, visit “about:preferences#privacy” using the address bar. Under “Content Blocking” click “Custom”, click the checkbox next to “Cookies”, and ensure the dropdown menu is set to “Third-party trackers”.
We look forward to working with publishers to build a more sustainable model that puts them and our users first.