Mozilla CEO: Firefox Faced Advertiser Backlash Over "Do Not Track" Feature

In January, Mozilla announced plans to add a "Do Not Track" feature to Firefox, a tool that would allow users to opt out from having advertisers and other sites track their web-surfing habits. As Mozilla has readily admitted, the feature is far from perfect: Backwardly, tracking companies would actually have to agree not to monitor a user's browsing patterns, even once he or she opts out.

However, according to Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs, that hasn't stopped the feature from ruffling the feathers of advertisers, who, despite serious public concerns over privacy, depend on personal user data to boost the value of their ads.

At a meeting with ad executives after introducing "Do Not Track," Kovacs says reaction to the feature was wholly negative.

"Their first posture toward us was, 'You're breaking the web. It's an economic model,'" Kovacs recounts. "'If you do this, you're single-handedly breaking the web. It'll be a great place for a non-profit, but you don't understand the web.'"

Kovacs couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I said, 'So you're telling me your entire business model is based on your users not knowing what you're doing with them? Is that how it works?'" Kovacs relates. "There was stunned silence in the room. When there was no reaction, I said, 'I'll assume that's a no. So then your reaction must be that you don't think you can create an experience great enough that they'll actually overtly subscribe to it. Is that true?'"

More silence.

"I said, 'So what else do we have to talk about? Why don't we talk about how we solve this problem?'" Kovacs says.

The Mozilla chief acknowledges that the system still needs work (for one, it still needs advertisers like the ones in that meeting to agree to respect the "Do Not Track" feature), and stresses that it's just "one approach" to addressing privacy concerns on the web. "It gives the user the opportunity to put their hand up and say, 'Don't track me,'" Kovacs says. "If our 450 million [users] put up their hands, someone's going to listen: governments are going to listen, policy makers are going to listen, ad networks are going to listen."

At the very least, Kovacs hopes the feature will help jump-start the "public discourse" on the issue. "You should care—we can't sit as passengers in this," he says.

And it's not that Kovacs is entirely against tracking online behavior. "We just want the user to know, and then choose. When I go to Netflix, I want a recommendation—I want it to track me," he says. "I just don't want them to pass along all my preferences and behaviors to other people that I don't know."


"There's a line here that we need to clarify," he adds.

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  • Andrew Krause

    @Steve, yes, you're being simplistic and a little bit of a socialist. The notional principle of corporate personhood was alive an well in Jefferson's day, and inherited from English common law. Though not endowed will all the rights a natural person is endowed with, a corporation is an extension of a natural person and therefore enjoys a certain subset of rights - including legal protection of property and due process. As a shareholder of several corporations, I rather prefer that its assets (which are my assets, and part of my retirement portfolio) are protected from money grubbing political hacks who wouldn't know the value of profit and enterprise to the overall well being of society if were explained to them.

    Kovacs illustrates the problem with corporations brilliantly - many of them are managed, but not led. If we're going to attack the real problem with business, lets go after the lack of ethical and socially responsible leadership that lets business be run by a mob when it should be run by a human with human values. Attacking the legal institution is a red (pun intended) herring.

  • sw01fl

    This country was founded I thought on the people seeking the rights to personal freedoms and protection.
    No where was there any mention of Corporate rights. So I assume they have none.
    Am I thinking to simplistic or politically incorrect(terminology that did not exist in Jefferson's day)?
    Come to think of it, we the people were not having many survival problems before the introduction of the Corporate Business Model if my memory serves me right. Hmmm, in just a few more years, Corporations won't have to be worry of us who are old enough to remember any more. I propose a new corporation called Peoples Corporation. The stated mission of this new corporation is to gain controlling interests in all Global Corporations so as to afford equal distribution to all the citizens. And to support the privacy of all citizens and their protection from all these Global Corporations. Further more, no employee will be compensated more than the junior employee.

  • Ken Rowland

    Great exchange; thank you Gary Kovacs! Hmmm, now THAT's a conundrum. No business model without following my footprints around, or those of millions of others...but it is our iterative intuitive pursuit of, well, our intuitive interpretation of the footpath that gets followed around, extracted, anal-yzed, sliced, diced and parsed for the purpose of the advertiser to iteratively and intuitively follow my intuitive interpretation of that which I'm following...because it is of interest to me. I think we ALL should put a copyright on all of our keystrokes! Hey, isn't that MY intellectual property there buddy? Send me a royalty check the second Wednesday of each month. That's when the U.S. Eagle soars, then dumps my previously earned load into my bank account. Upon arriving there I call it my social security income; I earned it and worked for it. Best, kr

  • yon

    Great reaction by Kovacs to the advertisers. Hooray for him.

    Spelling correction: "So then you're reaction must be..." should use "your".