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14 April 2011, 13:37

Safari is to improve privacy protection via "Do Not Track"

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Safari Logo According to reports in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and elsewhere, the next version of the WebKit-based Safari browser, that will ship with Apple's forthcoming Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion", will include a "Do Not Track" (DNT) feature along the same lines as the HTTP header introduced by Mozilla in Firefox.

The header will be sent by the browser to web sites in order to indicate that the user does not want their activity to be tracked; this does not prevent tracking, and is dependent on the relevant web site respecting the user's wishes. However, not many sites have yet agreed to this, and the Wall Street Journal article points out that the main advertising networks have not yet agreed to honour the new header request.

These features were developed after suggestions last year by the US FTC, but there is as yet no legislation in place to enforce sites to comply with users' wishes or apply any other restriction on tracking. A likely contender is considered to be a bill for an "opt-out" feature put forward by US Senators John Kerry and John McCain.

Microsoft has taken a different approach in Internet Explorer 9 in the form of "no tracking lists"; if a web site is on such a list, then the browser will block tracking. Users can prepare their own such lists, and security companies are in the process of creating their own lists which users will be able to import. Such lists form the basis of a proposal for a web standard that Microsoft has presented to the W3C.

The WSJ notes that, when Apple makes this "Do Not Track" feature available this summer with the release of Lion, this may leave Google as the only major browser provider that hasn't yet committed to supporting a DNT capability in its Chrome browser. A company spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that it would in future be "more intense" in discussions on this issue.

However, in January of this year, Google released an extension for Chrome called "Keep My Opt-Outs" that will let users alert web sites that they wish to opt out of tracking. Google itself uses tracking across many of its own sites, in support, among other things for its "interest-based advertising".

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