Firefox, the open source Internet browser claiming 11% of global market share, has announced it will no longer allow third-party tracking cookies. Other companies have discouraged tracking cookies, but now Firefox has developed a complete block.
For the demand generation and lead generation business this is either a) a disaster of nuclear proportions, b) the start of a legitimate targeting issue, or c) an inconsequential decision by a flagging technology company.
The safe money is on choice “b.” The decision by Firefox, announced on Feb. 23, has largely escaped the attention and comment of most executives that provide lead generation technology and services. But it is gaining that attention as the potential ramifications of losing 450 million global customer data profiles start to hit home.
Firefox has been slipping in market share to Google Chrome, various IE versions and Safari. However, its move to take a key targeting tactic off the table has sparked concerns of a trend toward “ultra privacy settings.” Even for the relatively small scale of B2B lead generation campaigns, it can represent 10% of the entire database that will no longer accept new ads, messages and customized content.
“It will affect some lead generation campaigns but only nominally,” said Russell Glass, CEO of Bizo. “It will reduce resolution on Firefox by about 20%. So much of what we do is not based on cookies, but it is a cause for concern. Cookies are effective and privacy-centric tactics for targeting relevant leads. There’s a short-term concern, but blocking cookies is a longer-term concern.”
Glass has been an active voice against the need for coolie-blocking technologies. He has written the Federal Trade Commission on the matter and has been outspoken about his belief that it will “stifle the innovation and growth in our country in an area where we must continue to lead Internet technologies” as well as degrade the online customer experience because cookie-less consumers will not see targeted ads. From a lead generation perspective it can be limiting especially if it goes further because other browser technologies could become more aggressive, as Firefox has done. On the consumer side, the stakes are even higher for “look alike” prospecting and targeted advertising. It led Interactive Advertising Bureau VP Mike Zaneis to call Firefox’s move a "nuclear first strike."
“I would call it a legitimate concern,” said Mark Papia, Chief Revenue Officer at audience targeting company Connexity. “And the concern is in the trend. On a B2B level, if I want to spend money on identifying leads, we’re at the point where you’re able to target decision-makers at prospective companies, and people who like those decision makers. If Safari follows suit, and Microsoft follows suit, which they have shown signs of doing, we could have stringent targeting policies in place.”
Papia believes the browser companies, especially the ones that make a living enabling targeted ads, will be cautious. And Glass believes it was more of a posturing decision by Firefox than one driven by consumer privacy issues.
Bottom line, lead generation and demand generation campaigns will not be appreciably affected in the short term. For the long-term the key may be in investigating URL-anchored technology and other semantic technologies. Both move away from cookies, which are basically bits of code attached to an IP address. Cookies follow users. If a company uses URL keywords and anchor text keywords they can form a new pattern that allows anonymous user profiling and cookie-less tactics.