What does the Firefox Automatic Block Mean for Advertisers?


Firefox announced yesterday that it is automatically blocking all third-party cookies. The option of blocking third party cookies has existed for a long time in Firefox and most browsers, however this was an option in the settings and not the default. In version 22 of Firefox it will be the default which has caused an uproar in the advertising industry. Interactive Advertising Bureau SVP and general counsel Mike Zaneis tweeted that this is a “nuclear first strike against ad industry.”

The first strike actually came from Safari who has been doing this for years now. However, Firefox is a much more utilized browser, making this change more significant.

Take a look at the latest browser breakdowns on market share according to NetMarketshare.com for January 2013:

Chrome = 16%
Firefox = 20%  (14% still only on versions 17 and 18)
Safari = 5%
IE = 55%
All other = 4%

It’s going to be interesting to see how long this takes to have a serious impact though, and to see just how serious the impact will be. Firefox 19 was only released last week and this new privacy setting will be released in version 22. According to CUNET this new version could roll out as early as April 5th.  However based on the above user breakdown, out of the 20% of people who use Firefox as their preferred browser 14% are still on versions 17 and 18. Users will need to update their browsers for the new settings to take place, so it won’t be an overnight, flip-the-switch type of situation.  Plus current Firefox users will need to clear their cookies in order to fully benefit from this new policy. It will be a somewhat slow roll out, which will give most advertisers time to react accordingly once they see how this is affecting the campaigns.

I also feel it necessary to highlight the difference between a first and third-party cookie.  A first-party cookie is essentially one from a domain with which a user has deliberately established a relationship. According to Jonathan Mayer’s update on this, “If content has a first-party origin, nothing changes. Content from a third-party origin only has cookie permissions if its origin already has at least one cookie set.”

This is something that will continue to roll out more and more in the next year as privacy concerns heighten.  IE is supposed to be rolling this out later in the year and Chrome has hinted at it as well.  I’m hoping that the industry will go along the same path that they did in the UK and run campaigns to inform users of why it’s beneficial to turn their cookie tracking back on, but I don’t see that happening quickly.

Below is an example of the UK laws at work:

This may hit the DSP’s, networks and exchanges more than anything because they are more likely to drop third-party cookies. So there could certainly be a shift in where advertisers are purchasing inventory. This change could encourage a shift back to direct publisher buys that are able to drop first-party cookies, which may result in higher “premium” prices, but only time will tell.

The good thing is, right now, its impact is minimal.  If we see this trend continue to grow within browsers, we’ll need to step back and take a look at strategy moving forward. However for the time being, I see this as having minimal impact on current display campaigns.


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