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09 June 2011, 12:34

W3C to manage development of the Privacy Dashboard

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W3C has announced on its blog that it has taken on the open source development of the Privacy Dashboard. This grew out of the PrimeLife research project that was funded by the European Commission "to counter the trend to life-long personal data trails without compromising on functionality." To this end, the project funded the development of the Privacy Dashboard, a Firefox add-on that monitors the personal information that is collected by web sites and enables the user to control this – block or allow – for each web site that is visited.

The add-on displays an icon in the Firefox toolbar that acts as an indicator, changing between three states according to what the system knows about the site currently displayed: if it is benign regarding privacy, if it collects some information but does not have a machine readable privacy policy, or, if it enables tracking by third-party web sites. The first time a user visits a web site that is not known to be benign, then the Dashboard alerts the user to set their preferences – there are three choices: "Accept always", "Protect me" and "Tell me more". Selecting the latter option brings up a dialogue box that lists the information that is available, including the number of session cookies, lasting cookies, external third party sites and invisible images. Further information is available other tabs. Once the user is feels they are informed, they then have three options from which to choose: whether to be "Carefree", "Thoughtful" or "Paranoid" regarding the web site.

Zoom Privacy Dashboard displaying main information about a web site.
The Dashboard queries a designated server for data on visited web sites and if a user comes across a web site for which information has not been stored, they will be given the option to upload this data, thereby increasing the stock of information held by the system. The data that is uploaded is anonymous and covers, for example, whether the site in question involves third parties which can set lasting cookies. The initial database was put together in January 2011 and was collected from a survey of the top 1,000 web sites. This database can be searched by accessing its query page.

The W3C wants to enhance the Dashboard with more human input and is asking for volunteers that have an interest in "tracking the privacy practices of websites over time and helping to present this information. This will include tracking changes to site privacy policies as the Dashboard can't do so by itself." It is also looking for programmers and translators to help with further development and internationalisation.


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