Thursday, January 27, 2011

Google, Mozilla move to strengthen online privacy

The Federal Trade Commission recently indicated that it might call for a "Do Not Track" mechanism to be put in place to prevent personalized advertising and behavioral tracking, which is considered intrusive by many. But Google and other browser companies are trying to head off the need for that more extreme measure with tools of their own, which may or may not be as effective. For its Chrome browser, Google yesterday announced an extension called Keep My Opt-Outs.

It's a simple extension to download, and you don't need to maintain any lists or make any other changes on your own. Unfortunately, it works only with the 59 advertisers that agreed to participate in the Network Advertising Initiative's (NAI) self-regulatory efforts meant to control the proliferation of personalized ads and behavioral tracking. Mozilla recently proposed a privacy-protection tool that takes a different approach from Google's. Mozilla, which publishes the Firefox browser, wants to use a tool that changes the browser's HTTP headers to show advertisers that a user is not interested in being tracked.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is endorsing this method because it reaches a wider range of advertisers, while the Google approach is limited to participants in the NAI's program. So the question is, which works better? You know the 59 advertisers that get your do-not-track message from Google's extension will comply. But that leaves lots of other companies free to continue tracking your browsing habits. The Mozilla approach communicates your wishes with, potentially, every advertiser on the sites you visit. But there's no guarantee that they will take action.


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