January 25, 2011

Firefox, Chrome To Get ‘Do Not Track’ Tool

Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome Web browsers will soon include new tools that will allow users to block advertisers from gathering personal information about them.

On Monday, Mozilla said it was working on a new tool that would allow Firefox users to automatically ask Web sites not to track their online activities by transmitting a "Do Not Track HTTP header" with every click or page view, indicating that they wish to opt-out of third-party ad-based tracking.

The Web sites would then decide whether to grant the request or continue gathering data.

"The challenge with adding this to the header is that it requires both browsers and sites to implement it to be fully effective," wrote Alexander Fowler, Mozilla's Global Privacy and Public Policy officer, in a blog post.

"Mozilla recognizes the chicken and egg problem and we are taking the step of proposing that this feature be considered for upcoming releases of Firefox," he said.

The tool would be the first in a number of measures designed to protect users' privacy, Fowler said 

Mozilla said it isn't clear if the new tool would be included in the coming Firefox 4.0 release, or a later version of the software.

Meanwhile, users of Google's Chrome browser can currently download a plug-in that blocks advertisers, although the restriction only applies to ad networks that already allow users to decline personalized, targeted ads. 

Microsoft Corp. has also announced a do-not-track option would be available on the new version of its Explorer Web browser.  The tool will allow users to join "lists" that block certain Web sites or advertisers from placing cookies on their computers.

Mozilla's announcement follows complaints by some federal agencies that online advertisers gather too much personal information from users, including the Web sites they visit, their online purchases, their Internet searches and the links they click.

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission called for the creation of a "Do Not Track" tool that allows consumers to block advertisers from gathering such information. The Commerce Department also recommended guidelines last month that would require online advertisers to warn consumers about the type of personal information they are collecting, and how the data would be used.

Consumers should be able to decline some or all of that data collection, and companies that do collect such personal information should be required to store it securely, the department said.

Sean Harvey and Rajas Moonka, product managers for Google, said the Chrome privacy tool would enable more permanent ad blocking.  Until now, opt-out settings were typically stored through cookies, but were erased when users cleared their cookies.  

The Chrome tool also lets users opt out of all participating ad networks at once, rather than one at a time.  However, once users opt out, they may see ads that are repeated or less relevant, Google said.


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