The Digital Advertising Alliance wants to be ready when Mozilla starts blocking cookies by default in its Firefox Web browser.
Mozilla's cookie-blocking plan has been controversial from the start. As much as privacy hawks praised it, it was blasted by the interactive advertising industry for its potential to wipe out smaller Web publishers that rely on third-party ads to stay in business. And unlike with Microsoft's default Do Not Track browser, which simply sends a signal, Mozilla's plan can't be ignored.
The DAA, which manages the self-regulatory program that allows users to opt out of behavioral targeted advertising, relies on cookies to operate. If Mozilla were to implement its cookie-blocking program, it would block the opt-out page and users would no longer be able to opt out.
Looking for an alternative, the group has begun meeting with its members, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Network Advertising Initiative, and ad tech firms such as Blue Kai, to explore its options.
Though cookies may not be going away any time soon, the writing is already on the wall. Apple's Safari already blocks some third-party cookies and mobile doesn't rely on cookies at all. Google is exploring a new identifier it has coined AdID (not to be confused with the 4A's Ad-ID, a digital identifier for commercials).
"We have to prepare for a cookieless world. We need to invest in other ways so that the market doesn't shift in the middle of the night," said Omar Tawakol, the CEO of Blue Kai.
In a workshop held last week, the DAA and others reviewed what practices are out there and potential options. In the early stages of discussion, the group hasn't settled on any solution or set any standards.
"The industry will need to find a way to make sure choice is honored," said Stu Ingis, the Venable partner who represents the DAA. "All we're trying to do is find a way for people to able to stop advertising if they choose."
But privacy hawks were skeptical, suspecting the meeting was a ruse for the advertising industry to come up with an identifying tracking device that can be used across all platforms to serve ads.
"Overlaying this whole thing is that the business has shifted, and it's important to do 360-degree tracking. So the advertising business needs to come up with a cross-platform system that avoids the controversies surrounding cookies," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
DAA members said Chester has it all wrong.
"We just want to make sure consumer privacy practices keep pace," said Mike Zaneis, svp and general counsel of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.