Mozilla-Manager Dixon-Thayer "Online advertising is rife with mistrust"

Freitag, 20. November 2015
Denelle Dixon-Thayer: "Tracking Protection does not have a "whitelist""
Denelle Dixon-Thayer: "Tracking Protection does not have a "whitelist""
Foto: Mozilla

Is the Tracking Protection in Mozillas Firefox 42 the most powerful ad blocker of all times or a perfect tool to give people back the control about their Web life? Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Chief Legal and Business Officer of Mozilla,  answers our questions: "We need to see a renewed focus of trust, transparency and control on the Web as a whole."

What does Mozilla think about the general condition of online advertising (from the users’ point of view)? Appropriate or too bothering?  At Mozilla, we believe in a Web that empowers people to be in control of their online lives. Because of this, we believe trust is the most important currency on the Web. When users lose trust in the system, it fails. Unfortunately, today, online advertising is rife with mistrust. The prevailing Web currency in advertising is user data. At its core, this model is not new or unique, it is common in the media industry (e.g. broadcast television commercials and newspapers that are ad supported). As online advertising grew, ads have increasingly become targeted towards an individual user’s browsing habits and intentions to improve monetization. This isn’t a bad thing when done openly or done with consent. The problem is that this “personalization” is not always transparent, leaving users in the dark about the value they have traded for customized content.  We need to see a renewed focus of trust, transparency and control on the Web as a whole. We can all do better. We want to see more products and services (and not just in online advertising) developed with those ideals in mind.

Which topic is most on Mozilla’s mind: the visibility /interference effect of advertising? Or just tracking? Why?  What is most important to us is putting users in control of their Web experiences. We develop tools that users want in order to empower them as they browse the Web. We need to see a renewed focus on trust, transparency and control on the Web as a whole. We want to see more products and services (and not just in online advertising) developed with those ideals in mind so that we can help users start to trust the web again.

Online advertising campaign for Firefox by BBDO Germany
Online advertising campaign for Firefox by BBDO Germany (Bild: Screenshot)
How far does Mozilla think it’s a browser’s job to block ads (or tracking) by intervening in the publishers’ sites?  At Mozilla, we champion a Web that empowers people to reach their full potential and be in control of their online lives. It is the browser’s role to help the users get the Web experience that they want. This means creating and advocating for products, policies and practices that respect our users and create trusted online environments and experiences. This applies to our browser as well.

Publishers say that ad blocking (and tracking blocking) is an inadmissible encroachment in their possession and a destruction of their business model. Your comment on this?  Ensuring a commercial environment prospers on the Web is central to the Mozilla Manifesto so that the Web can be open, diverse and the global asset that powers innovation -- advertising is one of those central commercial activities of the Web. However, online advertising today is rife with mistrust because there is a lack of transparency with respect to the collection and use of data. Users don’t always have a clear sense of the value exchange that is occurring as they browse the Web. We need to see a renewed focus of trust, transparency and control on the Web as a whole. As said before, we can all do better.

As a result of the tracking blocker in FF42, most ads are held back. Is this explicitly intended – or simply an accepted “collateral damage”?  With Tracking Protection, we’ve worked hard to build a feature that focuses on user needs, instead of focusing on any specific industry or type of content. This is in keeping with our content neutrality principles

  • Content Neutrality: Content blocking software should focus on addressing potential user needs (such as on performance, security, and privacy) instead of blocking specific types of content (such as advertising).
  • Transparency & Control: The content blocking software should provide users with transparency and meaningful controls over the needs it is attempting to address.
  • Openness: Blocking should maintain a level playing field and should block under the same principles regardless of source of the content. Publishers and other content providers should be given ways to participate in an open Web ecosystem, instead of being placed in a permanent penalty box that closes off the Web to their products and services.

    So Tracking Protection does not specifically target advertising. Instead, it is focused on providing users with meaningful choice over those third-parties on the Web that might be collecting data without users’ understanding or control.Tracking Protection blocks sites that track users that meet Disconnect’s standards of tracking. If a site stops tracking users, Disconnect will remove that site from a blocklist, including if that site is an advertising site. We hope that ad, analytics and social button trackers will improve their practices such that they are removed from the Disconnect blocklist.

    Is it fact that the tracking protection in FF42 is only & exclusively available in the private browsing mode? Do you plan to roll it out in the standard version as well? Tracking Protection is currently enabled in Private Browsing mode by default and not in the non-private browsing user experience in Firefox. We have no update to give with respect to an easy way to access this setting in non-Private Browsing mode and will monitor feedback about the feature to understand where it is most useful. Because Firefox is open source and designed to provide deep customizability, a technically savvy user may be able interact with experimental settings to turn on various features, including Tracking Protection, in other contexts outside of private browsing. This is not easy for the average user.

    Is it fact that – depending on the user’s settings at FF – the private mode might be activated or adopted automatically when the user updates his new FF version? So the private mode might be activated or adopted without any user’s intervention (Settings: Data Privacy – Browser History: “activated with user-defined settings” or “never activate”)? Users have to explicitly turn on Private Browsing. We don’t know how many users use PBM, or for how long because we don’t track usage of PBM.

    Does tracking protection also block tracking pixels of of German internet analytics committees as IVW (Information Community for the Assessment of the Circulation of Media, comparable to the Audit Bureau of Circulation) and AGOF (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Onlineforschung - Working Group for Online Research), that gage the reach of media? Sites on Disconnect’s list are blocked. The list itself is open source and available here. If an entity would like to see whether they are on the list, they can check the source code for their domain names. You can also learn more about Disconnect’s process and criteria here.

    What is the current proportion of users (worldwide/in Germany) using the private mode? And how will that proportion develop against the background mentioned in question (7) and your current marketing campaign? We do not know the number of users that use PBM because we do not track use of Private Browsing mode. Ultimately, what we care about is building products users love, and sustaining a vibrant Web. We believe that by putting users in control of their Web experience we all benefit. As an industry, we need to work to engage users in the value exchange so they can better understand the process. We need to help them see that they get access to content on publisher sites because those sites are able to monetize the content through advertising. This is all part of growing and healthy and engaged Web. Providing users with tools that assist them in building their own Web experiences helps to rebuild trust and allow them to make choices.

    Is there any “whitelisting” for advertisers or publishers? Means: Is there any advertising that is NOT blocked despite tracking protection (cause it complies with certain criteria)? Tracking Protection does not have a "whitelist". Disconnect operates a blocklist targeted at trackers (certain ads, analytics and social buttons) that we chose to integrate because we believe it complies with our content blocking principles. Disconnect does provide ways for sites to improve their behavior and be removed from the list. You can learn more about Disconnect’s list and criteria here.

    According to our information, ads from senders who join the “do not track” initiative are NOT blocked. Is this correct? Does this whitelisting work automatically? Tracking Protection does not have a whitelist. Disconnect maintains the TP blocklist and you can find their standards here.

    In Germany there is the so called “DDOW Standard” [DDOW – Deutscher Datenschutzrat Online-Werbung – Data Security Council Online Advertisement – stands for a European harmonized online behavioral advertising] as a “do not track” initiative. So that means that ads sent from DDOW members are automatically NOT blocked? Sites on Disconnect’s list are blocked. The list itself is open source and available here. If an entity would like to see whether they are on the list, they can check the source code for their domain names. You can also learn more about Disconnect’s process and criteria here.

    Do the publishers have to pay additionally for being whitelisted (analogous to Adblock Plus, maintained by the disputed company Eyeo)? Tracking Protection does not have a whitelist. Disconnect maintains the TP blocklist and you can find their standards here. One reason we partnered with them is because payment is not a condition of being removed from their blocklist. Rather, they apply consistent policies that we believe comply with our content blocking principles.

    Talking about commercial adblockers as Adblock Plus and others: FF42 users that use the tracking protection don’t need adblockers anymore, and the commercial whitelisting of companies as Eyeo won’t perform anymore. Correct? So do you think that the market needs commercial adblockers anymore – or will the FF42 be sufficient? Tracking Protection in Private Browsing mode is not an ad blocker, the feature blocks third party loads to a page based on whether the third party site is determined to be a tracker under Disconnect’s list. Disconnect maintains the TP blocklist and you can find their standards here. This feature is not focused on ads, it is content neutral. We believe that this is the only way that one should implement blocking software. We believe that it is crucial to focus on the problem that the user is trying to solve for (here, tracking) rather than on whether any type of content is “good” or “bad”.

    How many websites are currently free-switched? Tracking Protection does not have a whitelist. Disconnect maintains the TP blocklist and you can find their standards here. How did you get to the assumption that the majority of users wants and appreciates the certain advantages / features of your new browser? Users reported that they believed Private Browsing was already protecting them from third-party tracking across the Internet. Private Browsing Mode is not on by default, so users must actively turn it on and want the additional protections it provides. Again, we do not know the amount of users using PB because we do not track.

    How do you estimate the effects of FF42 on online advertisement? With Tracking Protection, we’ve worked hard to build a feature that focuses on potential user needs, instead of focusing on any specific industry or type of content. This is in keeping with our content neutrality principles.
  • Content Neutrality: Content blocking software should focus on addressing potential user needs (such as on performance, security, and privacy) instead of blocking specific types of content (such as advertising).
  • Transparency & Control: The content blocking software should provide users with transparency and meaningful controls over the needs it is attempting to address.
  • Openness: Blocking should maintain a level playing field and should block under the same principles regardless of source of the content. Publishers and other content providers should be given ways to participate in an open Web ecosystem, instead of being placed in a permanent penalty box that closes off the Web to their products and services.

    So Tracking Protection does not specifically target advertising. Instead, it is focused on providing users with meaningful choice over those third-parties on the Web that might be collecting data without users’ understanding or control. Tracking Protection blocks sites that track users that meet Disconnect’s standards of tracking. If a site stops tracking users, Disconnect will remove that site from a blocklist. We hope that ad, analytics and social button trackers will improve their practices such that they are removed from the Disconnect blocklist.

    How is the situation in mobile? Does the Tracking Protection also function there? Tracking Protection in Private Browsing mode is also available on Firefox for Android.

    How do you deal with content on Facebook and Twitter, which can be considered as tracker as well as legitimate content? This feature focuses on tracking, whether it is tracking by social networking sites, analytics services, or advertisers. Tracking Protection does block Facebook and Twitter from loading tracking content on sites they do not own. Facebook and Twitter may still collect and use data about users on their own domains in conjunction with providing a service. This is because, when a user navigates to a website, that user has chosen to establish a direct relationship with the website and may have some understanding of the data exchanged with that website. Alternatively, when a user navigates to a site, that user doesn’t necessarily expect data to be collected by other third party sites. It is this user impact that tracking protection is aimed at addressing. Interview: Katrin Ansorge/Roland Pimpl

 

 

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