Mozilla was thrust back into the spotlight last week when the tech company again made clear it intends to block third-party cookies on Firefox. This week the Interactve Advertising Bureau fired back with another angry missive.
But how are digital publishers taking the news?
Doug Weaver, CEO of the sales consultancy Upstream Group, said he expects many in the industry to take a "wait and see" approach. "We don't know how deep this goes, how fast it happens or how meaningful it is," he said.
But the move actually represents a shift in power toward publishers and the importance of their first-party data, according to Weaver. So if the third-party cookie is restricted by Mozilla, Weaver theorized, first-party data is strengthened. "The people who really win the biggest are going to be Facebook, Yahoo and Google," he said. "Because they have more first-party data than anybody."
David Denton, vp of product management at Evolve Media, said it's a "mixed bag" for his company. "On the ad sales side, we're generally in the brand-direct business, so a lot of the third-party cookies aren't as important to us in the types of campaigns we run," he said.
There's also the issue of timing, Denton added. Mozilla has said that it's teaming up with Stanford Law School to create a "Cookie Clearinghouse." Denton presumed it could take a while for the group to come to a consensus on cookies, adding that he would be surprised if they agree on a cookie "white list" and "black list" by the end of the year. "Getting a consortium to agree on a standard takes some time," he said.
Weaver echoed that point, predicting that the situation would continue to unfold over the course of months or years, not weeks.
"What most publishers and most networks will do, they're going to study this, they're going to calm down and ultimately adjust to whatever this new reality is," he said.
The debate over cookies is a natural issue for the advertising industry to grapple with, contends Dave Hills, CEO of Twelvefold Media, an audience targeting firm that doesn't track using cookies. "This would have come up as something the industry would discuss at some point, just like viewability recently."
Business Insider is one publisher that isn't really sweating Mozilla's move. Advertising based on third-party data is "a tiny revenue stream" for the site, said president Julie Hansen. "It's unfortunate, but it wouldn't be threatening to the business in any way to lose that revenue stream," she said.
Hansen added: "The way we sell is so little based on third party and so much based on our own data, our own information about the user—none of those data sets are affected by this move."
With nearly 9 million unique visitors in May, per comScore, Business Insider may come out fine in all of this, but one of the central arguments made by the IAB over the issue of blocking third-party cookies is that small publishers who rely on ad networks will take a big hit.
"By making it punishingly difficult for advertisers to reach highly engaged audience segments through small publishers dependent on this third-party-cookie supply chain, Mozilla’s new system will prompt marketers to concentrate their ad buys among a tiny handful of giant Internet companies that dominate the deployment of first-party cookies," wrote IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg in this week's statement. He compared Mozilla's "Cookie Clearinghouse" to a "kangaroo cookie court," embedding an image of a kangaroo cookie cutter for good measure.
Hills, though, was more optimistic about the situation small publishers face. "The [real-time bidding] infrastructure that's being built out can benefit small publishers as well as large," he said.
At the beginning of large debates, Hills argued, parties stake out more extreme positions. But "over the course of time they mediate," he said. "People start to find commonality and ways to work together."
In a follow-up email, he added: "My optimism that the industry will settle on a series of practices that balance the needs of the consumer, brand and publisher is well founded, I think. I’ve watched that occur since 1994 and my faith in smart consumers and companies has always been reinforced."