For years, browser makers and Internet firms have debated how best to implement a “do not track” standard across the Web. Major browsers have the option in place, but how do you get websites to respect those wishes?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has now introduced a “stronger” do-not-track option that will allow Web users to easily opt out of tracking and personal data collection online.
“We think using the Web—including viewing online advertisements—shouldn’t come at the cost of privacy,” the EFF said.
Websites would still have to opt in to the standard, and EFF has secured the support of publishing site Medium, analytics service Mixpanel, extension AdBlock, and private search engine DuckDuckGo. But once you’ve indicated your desire to opt out of tracking, sites that have signed on for the EFF’s DNT policy would, in theory, not track you. The EFF also worked with privacy firm Disconnect on the initiative.
“We are greatly pleased that so many important Web services are committed to this powerful new implementation of Do Not Track, giving their users a clear opt-out from stealthy online tracking and the exploitation of their reading history,” EFF Chief Computer Scientist Peter Eckersley said in a statement.
“The companies understand that clear and fair practices around analytics and advertising are essential not only for privacy but for the future of online commerce,” he added.
In 2010, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz proposed a system allowing Web users to opt out of Internet trackingsimilar to the agency’s “Do Not Call” registry.
The White House approved the new rules in February 2012, and by the end of the year, Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla, Google, and Opera had rolled DNT support into their browsers. Yahoo, Twitter, and Pinterest also integrated the solution into their products.
The program didn’t quite stick, though, and some industry giants began opting out themselves. Yahoo pulled support in May 2014, citing a lack of popularity. Just a few months ago, Microsoft stopped enabling “Do Not Track” by default for Internet Explorer.
“The failure of the ad industry and privacy groups to reach a compromise on DNT has led to a viral surge in ad blocking, massive losses for Internet companies dependent on ad revenue, and increasingly malicious methods of tracking users and surfacing advertisements online,” Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim said.
Web-tracking can be helpful, like remembering your passwords, auto-filling search terms and URLs, and serving up relevant ads. But there are concerns about what companies are doing with your data and if it is really anonymous. The new Do Not Track standard is not an ad- or tracker-blocker, but works in tandem with those types of technology, the EFF said.
“Our hope is that this new DNT approach will protect a consumer’s right to privacy and incentivize advertisers to respect user choice, paving a path that allows privacy and advertising to coexist,” Oppenheim said.