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24 January 2011, 15:33

"Do not track" - Mozilla advocates new data protection standard

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Mozilla Logo Online advertising networks use cookies to recognise internet users and serve them tailored advertising. Users can defend against this practice by deleting cookies, not accepting cookies, or setting an opt-out cookie, which declares that they do not want their online activity to be tracked.

All of these options have the disadvantage that the surfer has to take an active role in dealing with cookies. By contrast, a relatively new procedure called "do not track" allows users to specify that they do not wish to be tracked for advertising purposes by configuring a simple browser option. The result is that the browser sends an http header indicating that the user does not wish to be tracked each time a web page is called. This places the responsibility for respecting users' privacy directly on the advertising industry.

Alex Fowler, Technology and Privacy Officer for the Mozilla Foundation, has now come out in favour of the idea. The Mozilla community is currently discussing whether it should be implemented in Firefox. Mozilla developer Michael Hanson explains the principle behind it on his blog.

A procedure which does not actively block content, but relies on the cooperation of the advertising industry, might at first glance look unlikely to be a success, but the US advertising industry is currently under close scrutiny by the FTC, which has already expressed its support for 'do not track' in a policy paperPDF. FTC pressure could lead to rapid adoption of the new proposal, just as it led Adobe to make it easier to delete Flash cookies from browsers.


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