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Glyn Moody's look at all levels of the enterprise open source stack. The blog will look at the organisations that are embracing open source, old and new alike (start-ups welcome), and the communities of users and developers that have formed around them (or not, as the case may be).

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Did You Know that Mozilla is Hijacking the Internet?

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the incredible spectacle of the European arm of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) attacking Mozilla on the grounds that the latter had "lost its values" because it insisted on defending the users' rights to control how cookies were used on their systems.

Now, given the barrage of mockery from all sides that this monumentally daft tactic has provoked, you might have expected wiser counsels to prevail, and for the IAB to have crawled into some quiet little corner in the hope that people would stop making fun of it, and just forget about the whole sorry incident.

But no. Instead, the IAB is back with a new assault in the form of a full-page ad placed in Advertising Age (and also available online for your delectation [.pdf]) that is bigger, better - and barmier.

Under the restrained headline "Keep Mozilla from Hijacking the Internet" we read:

Finding stuff you’re interested in on the Internet is easy these days. That’s because advertisers can tailor ads to specific interests through the responsible and transparent use of cookies.

Now, I was really grateful that the IAB led with this nugget, because until reading that paragraph, I was labouring under the delusion that it was all the search engines I have used - first Lycos, then Altavista, followed by Google and now Startpage - that enabled me to find stuff that I was interested in. But now I see the error of my ways: in fact, I learn, it was thanks to those little cookies, helpfully sprayed across my system, that I've been locating all this stuff. Who knew?

The same helpful people from the IAB have bad news for me:

But Mozilla wants to eliminate the same cookies that enable advertisers to reach the right audience, with the right message, at the right time.

Naughty Mozilla. Oh, but hang on, actually, that's not what Mozilla is doing. Instead, it just wants to control the flood of cookies from sites you haven't visited that are currently being dumped on your system - so-called "third party" cookies. Here's a good explanation of what's going on here:

Any third party players are peripheral to the transaction and may add value but their primary purpose is something other than the sought-after good or service. These third parties are more like the flier guy who walks around the parking lot while you shop and puts discount fliers for his car dealership on everyone's windshields. (Wow, zero down, $169 a month?) He's not stocking shelves or bagging your groceries at the grocery store, but is still a peripheral part of the whole grocery shopping experience.

So there's no question of Mozilla eliminating cookies in general, just of giving the user control over those annoying advertisements that they stick behind your digital windscreen wiper when you visit a digital supermarket.

Anyway, back to the IAB's analysis:

Mozilla claims it’s in the interest of privacy. Truth is, we believe it’s about helping some business models gain a marketplace advantage and reducing competition.

Er, are we talking about the same Mozilla? You know, the one that is an open source project that has probably done more to defend users and the open Web than anyone? That one? Because I'm afraid I find it hard to square my knowledge of that particular bunch of altruistic coders with IAB's evil company "helping some business models gain a marketplace advantage and reducing competition".

I mean, Firefox was expressly created to increase online competition; part of Mozilla's credo is that everyone should be free to use the Web as they wish - and that includes all kinds of business models. So the idea that it is not actually defending privacy by giving users control over their Firefox brower, but is somehow involved in some nefarious plot to undermine the entire online ecosystem is, to put it mildly, barking. Maybe the IAB is living in a parallel universe?

Right now consumers have control over whether they receive interest-based ads through the Digital Advertising Alliance’s self-regulatory program.

Yes, the IAB is definitely living in a parallel universe - one where people have actually come across this Digital Advertising Alliance's self-regulatory program(me). Because I can honestly say that in nearly 20 years of wandering the Web, and far too many hours spent online every day (as my Twitter, identi.ca and G+ followers know only too well), I have never encountered this fabled Digital Advertising Alliance's self-regulatory program(me), much less know how to use it to control the ads I receive. And if I find myself in this woeful state of ignorance, that rather suggests that not many other people using the Internet have come across or use the Digital Advertising Alliance's self-regulatory program(me) either (has any reader come across it, I wonder?)

Indeed, I think the IAB has made a bit of faux pas here. By bringing up the Digital Advertising Alliance's self-regulatory program(me) as an existing "solution" that supposedly renders moot Mozilla's plans to tame third-party cookies - a programme that as far as I can tell is used by very few people - the IAB has actually underlined the fact that there really is no viable alternative to Mozilla.

Finally, I feel that I must point out that the image used for the ad discussed above - a laptop chained up with a padlock - is both ignorant and insulting to the hundreds of thousands of people who have contributed to the Mozilla project over the last 15 years. Mozilla has dedicated itself to freeing the Web and its users from a monoculture that threatened to destroy it - it's hard to think of a less appropriate image.

And if the IAB is truly concerned about who might be weighing down our computers and taking away our freedom with hundreds of tiny files that spy on us everywhere we go online, and worried about who is really hijacking the Net's amazing commons - which Mozilla played a huge part in nurturing - it might want to take a look in the mirror....

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