In an otherwise very balanced and eminently readable article, these were the harsh words that German IT trade magazine GOLEM.de (http://www.golem.de/news/tracking-krieg-der-cookies-1303-98386.html) used to heat up the discussion surrounding the planned technical innovations in version 22 of the Firefox browser. GOLEM speaks of “panic” among online advertisers. And the IAB’s first commentary on the matter was no less drastic: On Twitter, Mike Zaneis even described the innovation as a “pre-emptive nuclear strike against the advertising industry”. In an official statement (http://www.youronlinechoices.com/de/), the IAB sees the imminent end for “great diversity in the net”, because thousands of smaller companies and their websites would be facing ruin.
Here on the zanox blog, we’d like to summarise the essential findings on the future Firefox 22 development for all of our customers and partners and to provide further information and links.
What exactly has the Mozilla Foundation announced?
At the end of February 2013, the Mozilla Foundation, as the developer and operator of the Firefox browser, announced that, beginning with version 22 of their browser, third-party cookies will be blocked as standard (that is, as per its default browser setting). The exception for automatic blocking of these third-party cookies is supposed to be: Where a first-party cookie has already been written on the user’s device by the respective domain, it will also be possible to set a 3rd party cookie on the site of an external domain. This first-party cookie may have been set either as the result of a direct visit to the domain, or through a user-action on an ad medium belonging to the respective domain.
What does zanox think of this development? Is this a declaration of war against the advertising industry?
zanox is taking this development very seriously. In particular, we take the fears and concerns of our affected publishers for their respective business model very seriously, just as we do those of the advertisers, who see this as a trial of the sustainability of this sales channel. To this end, we will be holding individual meetings with the relevant publishers in the coming weeks, in order to present and discuss solutions that will minimise the impacts this development may have on our shared business interests.
Nevertheless, we consider it to be of great importance that the “major attack against the entire online advertising industry”, as so dramatically conjured up by some, is put into proper perspective.
Three key points on the matter:
- Publisher models: Publishers whose business models are predominantly based on third-party cookie technology are particularly affected by the new Firefox browser settings. This refers especially publishers in the fields of post-view display (termed zanox TPV in the zanox network), retargeting and RTB (in the zanox network via the integration of zanox MasterTag). However, this blockade only becomes effective if the computer has still yet to receive a first-party cookie from the relevant domain.
On the other hand, click-based publisher models are not affected, since these click-cookies – provided they are set as the result of a direct user-action – are interpreted and accepted as first-party cookies. Here, it is important that the click-request occurs, wherever possible, directly or as a redirect, whereby intermediate sites, pop-ups etc., which then execute the redirect via scripts and the like, could also possibly be interpreted as third-party requests.
- zanox network: zanox reaches more than 50 percent of online users in Europe. And the majority of cookies we set as a network are click-cookies. As click-tracking takes place via zanox Redirect, ONE zanox cookie on a user’s computer is sufficient to ensure the acceptance of a third-party cookie. In this respect, it makes no difference which publisher in the zanox network was responsible for setting the cookie. For our publisher customers, this means, very specifically: You benefit from the size and reach of our network, because it substantially increases the likelihood that a cookie has already been set and accepted. And, with this, there is also an increased likelihood that further third-party cookies are accepted by the browser. Internal tests have shown that, due to the network reach, one set first-party cookie from zanox can also be found in up to three quarters of all post-view transactions in the zanox network.
- Market penetration: Mozilla has announced the release of version 22 for June 2013; at the moment we are still on official release number 20. Version 22 is currently available on the market as a beta-release under the name, “Aurora”. In our tracking data, we can see that the majority of users have switched from version 19 to version 20 during the past four weeks. This massive wave of updates can be primarily attributed to the automatic update function in Firefox. It is therefore to be assumed that the final release of version 22 will also see the majority of users switching to the new version within 3-4 weeks of it becoming available. Although this slight time-lag between the release date and market penetration buys us a little time, it does not change a thing with regard to the fundamental modifications.
- Safari: From a technical viewpoint, the solution introduced by Mozilla is not a new development. It has already been around in a similar form for a number of years in the Safari browser from Apple. And even using Safari, zanox is able to provide reliable and sound tracking, thereby enabling fair and transparent remuneration of its partners.
Which web offerings will benefit from the new browser settings of Firefox version 22?
As third-party cookies are accepted once a first-party cookie has already been written by the respective domain, those sites which attract a large proportion of direct traffic will be the ones that benefit the most – in other words, the major international portals in particular.
What market share does Firefox have (in Germany)?
In contrast to the Safari browser, which has already had a similar default set-up for third-party cookies for a number of years, Firefox has a highly relevant level of market penetration, particularly among German users (http://www.browser-statistik.de/ -> with Firefox at a 36.9%-market share in Germany). In the overall zanox network, we see that roughly 25 percent of all transactions are made using Firefox in one or other of its versions. In this regard, the analysis of zanox tracking data showed that, in the past few weeks, there has been a substantial shift in share from Firefox version 19 to version 20.
In detail, the distribution of the number of transactions in April 2013 is as follows
- Firefox share of transactions in the zanox network (status: 17.-23.04.13)
- Share accounted for by individual Firefox versions (status: 01.-07.04.2013)
- Share accounted for by individual Firefox versions (status: 17.-23.04.2013)
What other problems does zanox see in the third-party cookie blockade by Firefox 22? Keyword “Tracking points”!
Affiliate marketing is a partnership-based model between publisher, advertiser and network. At the centre of this model is the transparent and fair remuneration of the publisher by the advertiser, for which the network provides the required tracking and reporting tools.
However, this partnership model will be placed in serious doubt, if the advertiser begins integrating non-transparent external tracking points in a way that the publisher is unable to follow. For this reason, and even without Firefox 22, our clearly worded request to advertisers is that they be transparent in specifying their individual tracking requirements, the technologies deployed and the de-duplication logics they use in the zanox marketplace. Only in this way can publishers gain the information they need in advance and tailor their measures individually to suit.
With the introduction of Firefox 22, the challenge for the transparent and fair integration of external tracking points from the advertiser’s sites becomes even greater. Many external tracking providers work with cookies. However, if these cookies are not integrated via the advertiser’s domain/sub-domain, the browser will see them as classic examples of third-party cookies. In this event, Firefox 22 will prevent the cookies being written; this will result in the advertiser interpreting the traffic as “native traffic”, which, in turn, means that a commission payment to the publisher no longer occurs.
In the event that advertisers run a customer journey analysis via third-party-cookie-based systems, these are also affected by the Firefox 22 blockade and will be greatly diminished in terms of the quality and meaningfulness of the information provided. Similar impacts are also to be expected for many web-analysis tools, whose measurements are directly based on third-party cookies and where it is not expected – or at best, only in very isolated instances – that a relevant cookie has already been written onto the computer as a first-party cookie.
So, once again, our request to advertisers:
- The use of tracking and cookie points should be fully transparent and shown in advance in the zanox marketplace.
- In the interests of fair remuneration of publisher services, the advertiser’s external tracking points should work via redirect or the respective sub-domain of the advertiser, in order to prevent blocking as a third-party cookie.
- In some cases, it may be advisable to talk to the relevant zanox contact regarding the possibility of implementing zanox SPOT (Single Point of Tracking), which, for certain models, can represent a useful alternative to pure third-party cookie-based technologies.
Our request to publishers:
- Every single publisher can make a huge contribution to the strengthened acceptance and activation of third-party cookies by employing so-called “cookie gates”, in which the individual browser settings for cookie preferences are automatically checked and can be directly adjusted by the user.
Publishers have already employed similar approaches for several years, in order to check for activated ad-blockers. These “cookie gates” are not technical script solutions for circumventing the Firefox 22 cookie blockade, but rather an active form of communication with the user, to enable changes to be made to restrictive default settings in the browser and to permit third-party cookies. Our experience in connection with the topic of e-privacy (NB: A further article on this subject will follow here on the zanox Blog in the near future) in the Netherlands and in Great Britain has shown very clearly, that active information, transparency and enlightenment of users have brought about substantially improved user-acceptance of cookies.
What alternative tracking methods are there for post-view?
Just to point out the relevance once more as clearly as possible: Post-view tracking via third-party cookies is only affected, if no other first-party cookie from zanox has been written onto the user’s computer. As soon as one first-party cookie has managed to make it onto the computer from anywhere within entire zanox network, third-party cookies will also be permitted for post-view tracking. This applies in around three quarters of all post-view transactions in the zanox network.
Cookies form just one part of tracking, though. Even today, other alternatives, such as fingerprint tracking, are already well developed at zanox and deliver dependable results in click-tracking, thus making for fair and transparent remuneration.
The challenges faced in using advertiser tracking points, as outlined in the previous answer, are even weightier in the case of post-view with Firefox 22. Due to the fact that, in post-view, not only the actual impression itself but also all subsequent requests are interpreted as third-party requests and, consequently, blocked in Firefox 22, converting the tracking points to a cookie of the advertiser’s domain/sub-domain will generally do little to solve the issue. In this case, the advertiser needs to switch the tracking points to alternative tracking methods.
First Safari, now Firefox – can we now expect a wave of third-party blockades?
It is almost impossible to tell in advance. It will however become a central task for the entire online advertising industry, to clearly analyse and communicate the impacts of such developments on the online advertising market and, with this, on one of the internet’s central financing models. To this end, zanox will also be working very closely with official associations, such as the BVDW and IAB Europe.
How is zanox reacting to these developments given that they place the future of cookie tracking in real doubt?
zanox and its Tracking Team are continually and consistently developing new tracking facilities beyond the cookie. For example, even today, our fingerprint tracking delivers highly dependable results in the field of click-tracking. As such, the future expansion of fingerprint technologies into the post-view area is fundamentally conceivable and will be checked for technical and legal feasibility, together with a number of other alternatives.
In the field of mobile technology, we have just recently introduced the zanox iOS and Android Advertiser SDK for comprehensive app-tracking, which even now, under certain conditions, is based on cookie-independent roots.
What are the firm measures zanox will take until Firefox 22 is released?
All zanox account managers, technical contacts and colleagues from the client service departments will be receiving intensive training in this subject from our specialists.
We will be keeping all customers and partners informed about further developments and measures, both here on the zanox Blog, and though our newsletters.
Naturally, advertisers, publishers and agencies can also get in touch directly with their zanox account managers.
Für weitere Fragen steht Ihnen das zanox Client Service Team unter der E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org zur Verfügung.
UPDATE (May 17th, 2013):
“War of the Cookies”!? – postponed but not cancelled
The implementation for the default 3rd party cookie blocking is postponed – see current post on the Mozilla developer site (https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Site_Compatibility_for_Firefox_22):
“Third-party cookies are blocked by default
Update: This change has been postponed to collect and analyze data on the effect of blocking some third-party cookies. In the Beta and Release channels, the default preference will be kept to allow third-party cookies.”
And please also see first media stories on that: http://www.adexchanger.com/data-exchanges/mozilla-delays-blocking-third-party-cookies/
(Autor: Thomas Bilz, Senior Product Manager Tracking bei zanox)