Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Browsers Attempt to Protect Online Privacy

USAToday reports that Google has rolled out a new Chrome browser privacy tool similar to Microsoft's for Internet Explorer 9, due out later this year.

For its part, Mozilla, developer of the Firefox browser, has announced a new feature which actually comes closest to addressing the FCC's call for Websites to implement a "Do Not Track" (DNT) mechanism that would enable consumers to opt out of having their activity monitored on the sites they visit.*

"Technologists and privacy experts say the latest privacy tools from Google and Microsoft fail to universally stop a practice called click-stream tracking, which ad networks use to index the websites you visit. This enables the ad networks to target certain ads to specific Web users," says USAToday. "'We have seen the industry try, and fail, to self-regulate in this arena,' says Rainey Reitman, analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation."

Browser Protections

•Chrome: Google's new tool, "Keep My Opt-Outs," strengthens the Network Advertising Initiative set up by a consortium of ad networks and advertisers to let consumers opt out of being tracked by NAI members. Some NAI members, however, merely stop sending targeted ads to the user, but continue to do click-stream tracking. All that "Keep My Opt-Outs" does is prevents accidental deletion of the user's opt-out request to the NAI members.

•Internet Explorer 9: Microsoft's new "Tracking Protection" works in a similar fashion, but instead of sending opt-out requests only to NAI members, IE9 will look for click-stream tracking and targeted ads coming from a broader list of ad networks and then block them. The list will be compiled with help from privacy and advertising groups.

•Firefox. Mozilla is working on a way to insert a simple request that gets sent to every Website you visit, asking the site not to track you if you select the "opt-out" option. This is part of Mozilla's effort to develop a standardized way of handling opt-outs across the Internet, but doesn't specify how it will prevent click-stream tracking per se. It still seems to say that it is up to the site you visit to abide by your wishes.

Concludes USAToday: "Experts say it may take a new law to compel the ad networks to heed Do Not Track requests."

Writing on Internet Evolution, Robert McGarvey says, "The only way not to be tracked may be the use of proxy sites. “Proxies truly work,” says [Darren Hayes, a computer science professor at Pace University and a leading expert in computer forensics]. Surf through a third-party detour and, suddenly, all the Internet ad surfers are baffled by your identity. Downside: Most proxies produce a very slow Internet experience, which is why they haven’t caught on."

*For more information on the FCC's Do Not Track initiative, see my blog post: Do Not Track: A Golden Opportunity?

1 comment:

David W. Schropfer said...

Thanks for the concise write-up on this topic. I will be interested to see if these tools will extend to mobile browsers.

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