Commentary

Mozilla Leads the Way on Do Not Track

Earlier today, Mozilla announced plans to incorporate a Do Not Track feature into their next browser release, Firefox 4.1. Google also announced a new privacy extension today, but we believe that Mozilla is now taking a clear lead and building a practical way forward for people who want privacy when they browse the web.

Why We Need Do Not Track – Privacy advocates have been calling attention to issues of pervasive online tracking for some time. Often intertwined with the issue of behavioral targeting, online tracking refers to the difficult-to-elude mechanisms by which most or all of our reading and other activities on the Web are recorded by third parties, without our knowledge or permission.

The technical details of online tracking are multifarious. They include traditional HTTP cookies as well as flash cookies and many other kinds of supercookies, web bugs, JavaScript trackers, HTTP Referrers, and fingerprinting. And new ways to track browsers will continue to be invented. Even consumers who take steps to delete their cookies or use private browsing mode remain unable to prevent third parties from observing their clickstreams.

Currently, a subset of advertisers offer a mechanism for opting out of behavioral advertising through the Network Advertising Initiative — a project that has been widely criticized for failing to provide consumers with meaningful control. The NAI opt-out suffers from several problems: the biggest is that there is no consistency on what “opt out” means. Some tracking companies recognize that an “opt out” should be an opt out from being tracked, others insist on interpreting the opt out as being an opt out for receiving targeted advertising. In other words, the NAI allows its members to to tell people that they’ve opted out, when in fact their web browsing is still being observed and recorded indefinitely. Continue reading…

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