Firefox to block cookie placements

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

The maker of the popular Firefox browser is moving ahead with plans to block the most common forms of internet tracking, allowing hundreds of millions of users to limit who watches their movements across the web, company officials say.

The decision comes despite resistance from advertising groups, which argue that tracking is essential to delivering well-targeted, lucrative ads that pay for many popular internet services. When Firefox's maker, Mozilla, first publicly suggested that it might limit blocking in February, one advertising executive called it a "nuclear first strike" against the industry.

Widespread release of the blocking technology remains months away, but Mozilla officials spoke confidently about the growing sophistication of tools they are building to limit the placement of "cookies" in the browsers of individual users.

These bits of code, often placed by data collection companies users have never heard of, allow companies to learn what sites the browser visits for many months or even years. Tracking would still be allowed by Firefox if users gave a website express permission, or if users visited regu larly - as is common with shopping, social media or news sites.

"We're trying to change the dynamic so that trackers behave better," said Brendan Eich, chief technology officer for Mozilla, a non-profit group.

The technology Mozilla is developing borrows heavily from Apple's Safari browser, which blocks all "third-party" cookies, meaning bits of tracking codes from sites that users do not intentionally visit. Mozilla officials say they have refined that approach to allow third-party cookies in certain rare cases - for example when a site a person visits regularly uses a different web address, sometimes done for security purposes.

To help navigate the complexities of when to allow or disallow tracking, Mozilla has teamed up with Stanford University's Centre for Internet and Society to create a "Cookie Clearinghouse" that will advise the company on how to tweak its settings.

The clearest losers in Mozilla's plan will be companies that track users without their knowledge. They will be permitted to request permission to place a cookie in Firefox but users may have little incentive to allow a company they don't know to access to their personal browsing data.