Guest Columns
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Is the Firefox update a bad omen for publishers?

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The latest release of Mozilla’s Firefox browser is creating a sense of foreboding among digital publishers because it automatically blocks third-party tracking cookies.

By switching on Enhanced Tracking Protection by default for all Firefox desktop and Android users, Mozilla aims to enhance user privacy and make the process of opting in and out of tracking far more transparent. Users will be able to check which trackers are blocked and can choose to allow them individually. While this goal for user privacy and control is undoubtedly a noble one, this may have a knock-on impact for digital publishers – many revenues depend on programmatic advertising powered by data, collected via third-party trackers. Without associated data to enable audience matching and targeting, buyers may be unwilling to pay current rates for ad impressions, leading to a drop in impression value (CPMs) and publisher revenues.     

A bump in the road

On the surface, Mozilla’s decision shouldn’t present a huge problem for publishers. For a start, Mozilla’s share of the browser market is relatively low, accounting for just 4.33% across all platforms. Publishers who rely more on desktop than mobile may experience a slightly greater effect as Firefox has over 8% of the desktop market, as will publishers whose audiences are particularly attracted to Mozilla’s non-profit, open-source ethos. But even so, the direct impact will not be too damaging.

In addition, the update only applies to third-party trackers that meet the specific definition set out by Mozilla’s partner – Disconnect. The trackers that appear on the Disconnect list are there because they don’t support ‘do not track’ preferences and for this reason they are unlikely to be used by reputable ad networks. Publishers that work only with trusted and transparent monetization partners shouldn’t be overly impacted by the Firefox update.

A mountain to climb

Yet, while the Firefox update in itself may not present a significant problem for publishers, it is indicative of a larger trend. The industry is once again pushing the issue to publishers to deal with, as it has with both ad blocking and compliance with the consent aspect of data privacy regulations. The change effectively means traffic from Firefox can’t be monetized unless publishers can force their tech partners to be approved by Disconnect, or convince their audiences to individually allow certain trackers.

Firefox may only have a small share of the market but if a larger browser such as Google Chrome decides to take similar action the consequences for publishers could be far more severe. Chrome has almost 65% global market share with over 60% on desktop so, with talk across the industry that Google’s browser may well follow Firefox’s lead, this small hurdle could soon become a bigger challenge to publishers’ sustainability.  

A new way forward

Rather than simply dealing with the consequences when current technologies are blocked, the digital advertising industry needs to completely overhaul its approach to reliance on personal information for data-driven advertising. The days of cookie-based targeting are coming to an end and the industry needs to consider alternative solutions being offered by the market.

For instance, Google recently released a proposal to unveil users’ personal data to advertisers and networks under certain conditions. The proposal aims to start an industry discussion into how to provide the best possible privacy experience, so users understand what data is being collected, who is collecting it, who is responsible for the ads they see and what causes ads to appear.

Organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are also taking action on data privacy issues, and are looking for ways to make the processing of personal data more transparent. From the IAB Tech Lab’s data transparency standard and compliance program, to its innovation days focussed on data responsibility, the trade association is consulting with representatives across the industry to move forward on the issue of tracking and data use in advertising.

Mozilla’s decision to block third-party trackers by default could be seen as a bad omen for digital advertising, a sign of tougher times to come if other browsers follow suit. But in reality it should be viewed as yet another incentive for the industry to take action on data transparency and find a workable alternative to cookie tracking that will give the user a full picture of how and where their personal data is used. A real focus on increasing transparency will improve the user experience, reduce the use of ad blocking software and eliminate shady players from the market, which can only be positive for digital publishers and the advertising industry as a whole.       

Michael Korsunsky, CEO at MGID NA

AboutMGID is a global innovative pioneer in native advertising that drives revenue growth for all participants of the ecosystem. Founded in 2008, the company has offices in the US, Ukraine, Vietnam, Russia and India. MGID offers clients a 360 solution, from planning and strategy to delivery and reporting, and works across more than 60 different languages.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash