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25 February 2011, 12:44

Microsoft's "Web Tracking Protection" submission accepted by the W3C

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The W3C has accepted a submission from Microsoft on "Web Tracking Protection", and has now started the formal standardisation process, the next step in which will be a workshop at Princeton University on 28-29 April 2011. In a posting, the W3C states that due to significant public concern, the submission from Microsoft is timely, and that the "W3C had already decided to strengthen its focus on privacy."

That public concern focusses on behavioural targeting and other such techniques used by advertisers to compile profiles on users in order to serve precisely tailored advertising. Many advertising networks offer the option of opting out of such tracking and the submission from Microsoft is intended to develop a standardised framework for a more general ability to opt out of such tracking.

The submission suggests two parts to the standard: first, filter lists, which would enforce a user's privacy preferences "by preventing the user agent from making unwanted requests to web servers that track users"; and secondly, an HTTP header and DOM property indicating the user's preference which would be used by a web server if it is set up in order to respect the user's privacy. This second part is identical to a plan proposed by Mozilla, which has been a strong supporter of the Do Not Track approach favoured by the US Federal Trade Commission.

The W3C states that it hopes to build a broad consensus on this subject and hopes to involve a broad range of stakeholders in the development of the standard: web site operators, privacy advocates and "also those who make use of user tracking to provide their services." To this end, the W3C invites discussion and input concerning the workshop to Interested parties can subscribe to this mailing list through The corresponding mail archive can be accessed here.

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