This weekend, the online advertising industry woke up to a bombshell that will fundamentally change their business: Mozilla’s Firefox web browser will no longer let ad networks set cookies on user devices. As a result, ad networks will have a much harder time tracking users around the web, and developing profiles on those users in order to determine which ads to show them. In the short-term, this will result in less revenue to the ad networks, and also to the websites that rely on them. However, in understanding why Mozilla made this change — and why it makes sense — we need to examine the explosion of online tracking in recent years, and the failure to offer users meaningful control over their personal information.
For more than two years, Mozilla’s Firefox web browser has included a “Do Not Track” setting that lets users signal to the world that they don’t want to be tracked. When users turn on this feature, every single communication from the browser to a website includes an attached header stating that the user doesn’t want to be tracked. In February of last year, industry representatives attended a White House privacy event and publicly committed to respect browser headers like “Do Not Track,” estimating it would be able to comply with users’ browser preferences “within nine months.”
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