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Do Not Track Advocate Mozilla Supports Some Tracking

Advertisers see Web company's move as ironic

Photo: Thomas Jackson

Mozilla is taking an "everyone but me" approach to Do Not Track. While the browser company is working on a plan to block third-party cookies from tracking people's Web activity, it's also exploring using tracking to personalize the Web experience of its users.

Mozilla wrote in blog posts today about a project dubbed "personalization with respect" that would personalize users' Web experiences by matching their browsing history with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking.

Mozilla has begun testing the concept with volunteer participants who agree to share their interests with websites in order to see personalized content. "The results are promising," wrote product manager Justin Scott in a blog post

"We want to give individuals more participation in their Web interactions so they can more easily get what they want, in a clearly defined way," wrote Harvey Anderson, Mozilla's svp of business and legal affairs, who added that the idea is "gaining traction" with publishers and marketers. "Our exploration into personalization is an attempt to help consumers get the most relevant content, at the right time, in a way that makes them feel comfortable by incorporating transparency and choice." 

Say what?! The whole notion sounds a lot like the same arguments advertisers have been using to defend behaviorally targeted advertising. Now Mozilla seems to be making the same point.

The advertising industry, which offers consumers the opportunity to opt-out of targeted ads, pounced. "So the takeaway is that it's OK for Mozilla to track, but not third parties?" asked Alan Chapell of Chapell & Associates, co-chair of the Mobile Marketing Association's privacy committee. "It would seem to frustrate the purpose of having a DNT standard that limits third parties from getting data directly if Mozilla could simply license it to them and/or websites on the back end."

Added Stu Ingis, the Venable partner who represents the Digital Advertising Alliance's self-regulatory privacy program in Washington: "The emperor has no clothes."

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