Firefox & Blocking 3rd-Party Cookies: What It Means For Affiliate Marketing

There’s been quite a stir lately about a new release of Firefox due out this summer. Here’s the deal: a patch in version 22 is expected to automatically block third-party cookies by default.

According to the latest reports, users who install this version of Firefox will no longer see targeted advertising unless they change their settings to accept third-party cookies. A user will see ads, but these ads won’t necessarily be based on their browser or shopping history.


Is this new? For Mozilla, yes, in terms of it being a default setting. Apple’s Safari browser has had this default setting in place for quite some time.

Meanwhile, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer currently allow third-party cookies by default. Actually, for quite some time every browser has offered users the option of going in and changing their settings.

Privacy Advocates

However, privacy advocates maintain that most users don’t know how or why to change these settings and therefore they should not be followed on the Web when it comes to shopping unless they expressly allow for it.

So, why all the hullabaloo? In many ways, this news is resurrecting some of the age-old debates about online advertising. In one corner, you have supporters saying it’s about time to stop the third-party cookies. In the other corner, there are a good many folks, marketers being at the top of that list, who are saying that blocking third-party cookies is bad for e-commerce and will stifle technology innovation in advertising.

Blocking Third-Party Cookies

Now, I’m not going to tell you that blocking third-party cookies is all good or all bad. That’s like saying all advertising is completely evil or it’s entirely beneficial. Though, here’s what you should know.

  • Third-party cookies can improve the user experience because they let website owners know how visitors are using their site and what content they deem valuable, including what brands they visit and which products they’re shopping for.
  • Cookies make sure the site visitor isn’t inundated with the same ads. This is because cookies help create targeted ads, which support a significant amount of the production and development costs of creating that valuable content.
  • Cookies manage the frequency at which the visitor is shown ads so as not to bother shoppers.
  • Cookies also do other things like alert site owners if and when a site is broken.
  • For affiliate marketing, cookies track the transaction so the publisher can get credit for referring the sale within a particular time frame.

If we take an all-or-nothing approach to allowing third party cookies, here’s what we could be dealing with:

  • An increase in the frequency and display of random ads.
  • Less opportunities for small publishers to thrive since Internet behemoths like Google and Facebook already have the lion’s share of established first-party relationships.
  • A decrease in the amount of relevant content specific to an audience.

Both sides, including privacy advocates and the online advertising industry, present compelling arguments and the fact is you’ll never please everybody. Along with this is the reality that a few rogues have diminished the online experience for many and are collecting personal information to the detriment of the entire industry.

There is no doubt, however, that this move by Mozilla could be devastating for many display and retargeting companies as well as the affiliate channel.  And this comes at a time when retailers are seeing these solutions drive huge sales.

It might be time for retailers and consumers to go on record about why these solutions are valuable – at least when it comes to online shopping.

What Cookie Blocking Means For Affiliate Marketers

So, what does this default browser setting mean for affiliate marketing?  Well, the answer depends a lot on the network.  Reliable affiliate marketing solutions don’t set or rely on third-party data to find users. Instead, the cookie isn’t set until after the user clicks on the ad. Then it becomes a first-party cookie.

However, advertisers should check with their affiliate marketing network or service provider to better understand how they set cookies. This way, they can avoid a potential uprising from the publisher community this summer if they see a sudden drop in commissions. Publishers should also be proactive and check in with their affiliate marketing networks to learn how their specific processes work and if the new release of Firefox will impact them.

Another piece of this puzzle is tag container solutions. Advertisers working with these solutions for management of all their cookies, and for attribution, should make sure to talk to their solution provider to understand and estimate the impact that this default setting for Firefox will have on their advertising channels.

Just like it faced so many other sea changes in consumer behavior and technology, the affiliate marketing industry is likely to adapt to this browser setting. So regardless of a consumer’s browser of choice, I would predict that publishers will ultimately get their commissions for referring traffic to retailers.

But, it’s a strong call to the affiliate industry to step up efforts with retailers and technology providers to tout the value of online advertising solutions while at the same time being diligent about following opt-in and opt-out standards for consumers.

Stock image via

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Affiliate Marketing | Affiliate Marketing Column | Channel: Content Marketing


About The Author: is LinkShare’s vice president of marketing. He has more than 15 years experience in corporate and product marketing with an expertise in the performance marketing channel.


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  • Sam Mazaheri

    Are site analytics really at risk? I know Google Analytics uses first party cookies and wouldn’t be affected.

  • Vishnu Prasath

    But for the website loading the Google s cookie – Google is a third party right?

  • Caspy7

    This new functionality *only* blocks cookies from sites you haven’t visited.
    So if some site is using a cookie from Facebook or Google and you have been there, they it will be allowed, but not 3rd party cookies for a domain that you’ve never visited.


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