Firefox To Block 3rd Party Cookies By Default
Firefox will be blocking 3rd party cookies by default in an upcoming release. As it is now, you have to manually go into Firefox’s settings and set it to block 3rd party cookies. No longer will you have to manually do this as you’ll be taken care of. Many people have no clue about 3rd party cookies and what they are used for and their privacy concerns.
What is a cookie?
Cookies are described in Wikipedia as “A small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user’s web browser while a user is browsing a website. When the user browses the same website in the future, the data stored in the cookie is sent back to the website by the browser to notify the website of the user’s previous activity.”
Cookies are a good thing, IF they are from and belong to a website you visited. They are helpful when you regularly visit a website and don’t want to log in every time you visit as the cookie can identify you. But its when a website uses them for other reasons such as marketing and advertising and you have no choice or no idea that these cookies are there or what they are doing. These cookies are 3rd party cookies as they are from a site other than the one you originally visited. Whats the problem then? Well lets go into that.
3rd Party Cookies Can Track Your Every Move
3rd party cookies used primarily by advertising servers and marketing agencies can be quite intrusive into your personal browsing habits. While you may prefer to see ads on webpages that are more aimed at you interests they are also logging this information for future ads that may be served at other sites you visit to keep the ads personal and consistent.
As a scenario I like to describe to people, imagine if you are shopping for purses and have been searching for them, these 3rd party cookies could be potentially placed in your browser with your preference for purses. Now that may not be too bad, it may help point you to a decent purse site, but….. What if you have also been searching for something personal like a contraceptive or a personal medical condition? These advertisers now have an IP address, your browsing history, and interests. They normally couldn’t identify you with just this information but you have been browsing the internet for a few days and all it takes of one of these sites that ‘share personal information with 3rd party trusted partners’ and they now have more than you may have wanted them to have.
Here is some additional information from security and privacy expert Steve Gibson of GRC:
3rd part cookies? – Unfortunately, this useful “remembering” facility is also being actively abused by sneaky web servers your browser never visits. These companies have figured out how to slip their “third-party” cookies into your browser through web advertisements, deliberately planted web bugs, and other unscrupulous tricks for the express purpose of monitoring you and your browser’s movements and activities across the Internet. Perhaps the most unfortunate and disturbing fact is that the people who created your web browser know all about this. They even provide a means for you to disable this unwanted and highly prevalent third-party surveillance. But with the single exception of Apple Computer’s Safari browser, this noxious surveillance is set to “on” by default.
The Disturbing Truth! – Advertisers would love to know the postal address and zip code of these tracked users since from that they can learn a great deal about the socioeconomic status of the less and less anonymous users being tracked by their database. So here’s the really bad news: Thanks to the tracking linkage provided by third-party cookies, it takes only one colluding web site, knowing the names, addresses and other non-anonymous information about its users, to break the anonymity for every site its users visit. Some web sites that establish advertising relationships with their vendors obtain a “kick back” for sharing the real world names, addresses, eMail, and other personal information with their “partners”. And if you read the fine print of the agreement you clicked when you provided that information, you’ll see that you inadvertently agreed to this back-channel information sharing….. That cookie is anonymous no longer.
They Know Who You Are – There are confirmed instances where people would look at web pages, fill out no information at all, and then receive a telephone call from a telemarketing firm that knew who they were, had their phone number, and knew what page they were browsing.
The Economic Impact and “Censoring”
There is a few people that are going after Mozilla Firefox and saying they are limiting our internet freedom, it is a form of light-censorship, and it has an economic impact. Conservative blogger Kira Davis has become a proponent of stopping Mozilla from blocking 3rd party cookies by default and says “I never really liked the idea of being “tracked” by advertisers and often I just turn on my blocker. However, I was unaware at what a vital role they play in the ability of small businesses and blogs like mine to conduct business and earn revenue.” Unfortunately she is very adamant about this. Listen, we can’t be upset after the Snowden NSA surveillance revelations that the US Government is destroying privacy but on the other hand think it is alright for someone else to track us because its all for business. While I personally believe this should ALWAYS be an opt-in preference, others are opining that is should be an opt-out kinda thing saying “If you don’t want to be tracked, turn 3rd party cookies off”.
I think it is time for these Ad servers and marketing agencies to evolve into something that doesn’t track people and interfere with their personal privacy and do away with the 3rd party cookie system. They will be alright, they will have to adjust. Thank You Mozilla for stepping forward and giving these advertisers a reason to change their ways and move forward with alternate advertising opportunities.
Privacy comes first for me on the internet, everything else will always follow behind that. Check out my post of Safe Internet Browsing and what you can do to protect yourself.
For more information on Cookie privacy please check out Steve Gibson:
- Privacy and Tracking (Fighting Internet Surveillance)
- Web Browser Cookie Forensics
- Security Now Episode 119 – 3rd Party Cookies
And last but not least, please visit the blog of Kira Davis and read her side of the Mozilla 3rd party Cookie issue. I highly respect her and enjoy her blog and videos, I just think we differ in the direction, importance, and the priority of web security and personal online privacy.