As part of this effort, Mozilla states that they will work with the Stanford University Center for Internet and Society to set up a six-member panel to administer a “Cookie Clearinghouse.” This initiative provides Mozilla with the ability to interpose itself between advertisers and the public and become the true decisionmaker for how consumers experience the Internet.
In reality, though, this program and similar initiatives by certain other web browsers are nothing more than a transparent effort by these companies to gain a competitive advantage. This effort will hurt big and small businesses, undermine Internet competition, and lead to a proliferation of less relevant advertising. Consumers should have the ability to make their own choices over their Internet experience. The only way web users can truly control the ads they see is to be empowered to take action to make these determinations themselves.
Fortunately, consumers already have that ability. An alliance of advertising interests (the Digital Advertising Alliance) maintains a robust program that allows consumers to dictate whether or not they receive interest-based advertisements. Multi-millions of Internet users already have taken advantage of this initiative. Users have the freedom to choose quickly and easily whether or not they would like to receive interest based ads.
If Mozilla and some other browser companies were correct that the majority of consumers do not want interest based ads, then you would expect that vastly more consumers would have opted out of the program. This real world data definitively trumps the browser companies’ spurious claims that their default “ON” setting for Do Not Track headers and cookie blocking proposals express consumer demand. In fact, the vast majority of consumers, given a clear choice every day in the marketplace to block interest based ads, continue consistently to refuse to do so.
The DAA initiative has been extremely successful in helping consumers identify the choices they have with the placement of the DAA choice icon occurring more than a trillion times a month. The industry’s efforts have been recognized by the White House and the Administration. Recently, U.S. Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen applauded the industry for its privacy opt-out program, which she said has “been one of the success stories in the space.”
This initiative, which is also operative internationally in almost 30 countries worldwide, has been so successful because it gives consumers the freedom to choose and dictate their online experience. Because of the impact of this program, the industry recently expanded the program to mobile phones and devices.
The Internet has brought an unprecedented wealth of free and valuable content, directly supported by revenue generated by serving relevant ads. For the consumer, it’s a service. It is another way for consumers to receive information that is relevant to their specific needs. Consumers are guaranteed ads that are more likely to interest them rather than being inundated with ads in which they have no interest.
Nonetheless, web browsers such as Mozilla are seeking to leverage consumer concerns over privacy as a competitive advantage. That’s why the Digital Advertising Alliance recently launched an ad campaign called “Keep Mozilla from Hijacking the Internet” to highlight the real world negative consequences that will result from Mozilla’s plans to block interest based advertising.
If Mozilla and other web browsers have their way, consumers will not see fewer ads. Rather, without interest-based advertising, consumers will be on the receiving end of a blizzard of untailored, spam-like ads. Limiting this type of advertising simply ensures that consumers will face more pay walls, irrelevant ads, or most likely both.
What Mozilla misleadingly claims is a tool for greater privacy protection is really nothing more than one company imposing its will in order to control its consumers’ online experience. Action by Mozilla and certain other browsers directly undermines the ability for consumers to dictate their own online experience. Instead of protecting consumers, Mozilla is now making choices for them. Consumers must be able to make their own decisions, rather than have them mandated by their browsers.
Jaffe is the group executive vice president of Government Relations at the Association of National Advertisers.