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Privacy & Data

“Do Not Track” Gains Momentum as Mozilla Announces New Tracking Tool

On the heels of Microsoft’s announcement that it would implement “Tracking Protection Lists” in Internet Explorer, Mozilla, developer of the Firefox web browser, has announced plans for its own “Do Not Track” settings. CDT applauds this trend and reemphasizes that privacy-enhancing browser tools are an important part of progress on online privacy. It is heartening to see browsers competing on privacy and empowering consumer choice.

Mozilla’s approach to “Do Not Track” differs from Microsoft’s. As discussed earlier, Microsoft plans to allow users to create or subscribe to a list of web addresses that track. Internet Explorer would then prevent communication with any domains on the list. Mozilla, on the other hand, is considering implementing an option to broadcast a “Do Not Track” header to each website a user visits. In other words, users will be asking every website they visit not to track them.

This approach has significant promise, but it will not be effective right out of the gate. Firefox users will have to rely upon individual websites to honor their “Do Not Track” requests. Today, websites do not have the infrastructure to accommodate these requests, but they have some time to adjust; Mozilla’s actual deployment of “Do Not Track” headers is likely a few months away. Companies who choose to ignore the headers risk a determination from the Federal Trade Commission that disregarding clear user preferences may constitute a deceptive or unfair business practice under existing law.

Both of these solutions prompt a policy discussion as to what “tracking” really means. With tools in place, consumers and industry need standards for their use. With this in mind, CDT will be issuing a preliminary proposal on the scope of “Do Not Track” for public discussion later in the week. We will be consulting with a wide range of stakeholders to help refine and build consensus around a common understanding of “Do Not Track.”

Google also announced a privacy-enhancing add-on today called “Keep My Opt-Outs” for its Chrome browser. It will provide some immediate benefit by allowing users to persistently opt out of behavioral advertising from participating ad networks (members of the Network Advertising Initiative). This is a step in the right direction, but we hope Google will continue to innovate and develop a more flexible and robust “Do Not Track” mechanism in the near future.