Google's and Mozilla's efforts to empower users to more easily opt out of online behavioral tracking by advertisers were joined in the past week's headlines by arrests in the pro-WikiLeaks cyber-attacks.
User privacy was in the news this past week when Mozilla and Google proposed
their own answers for concerns about online behavioral tracking by advertisers.
Mozilla entered the fray Jan. 23 when
it proposed adding
a "Do Not Track" HTTP header to the Firefox
browser to send a signal to Websites that users do not want to be tracked by
"When the feature is enabled and users turn it on, web sites will be
told by Firefox that a user would like to opt-out of OBA (online behavioral
advertising)," blogged Alex Fowler, Mozilla's technology and privacy officer.
"We believe the header-based approach has the potential to be better for
the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out
mechanism than cookies or blacklists."
A day later, Google announced an extension for the Google
that will allow users to permanently opt out of being
tracked online by advertisers' cookies, provided the companies offer opt-outs
through industry self-regulation programs.
"Advertising companies that are members of the Network Advertising
Initiative (NAI) already let you opt out of tracking for the purposes of
personalizing advertisements, and many online advertisers and trade
associations have also joined a major self-regulatory effort to enforce a
uniform privacy icon for ads, as well as opt-out guidelines," Google
product managers Sean Harvey and Rajas Moonka wrote
in a joint blog post
their shortcomings, some privacy advocates trumpeted the
The CEO of the ISP used by WikiLeaks also
talked privacy during the week, when he announced the company will pass
all customers through an anonymizing
service by default
to circumvent data retention laws.
"We plan to let our traffic go through a VPN service," said Jon
Jarlung, CEO of Swedish ISP Bahnhof, in an interview
with Sveriges Radio
(transcript translated through Google
) on Jan. 26.
The announcement was just another twist in the WikiLeaks saga that
occurred during the week. On Jan. 27, law enforcement in the U.K.
arrested five people
in connection with the spate of denial-of-service
attacks linked to "Anonymous." The FBI, meanwhile, executed
40 search warrants related to the investigation in the United
Also in the news, Facebook took the extra step to secure users by offering
always-on HTTPS, an option the social networking company said Jan. 26 it will
be rolling out gradually during upcoming weeks. Once users turn on the HTTPS
feature, it will remain on indefinitely to protect their future sessions unless
they turn it off, a company spokesperson told eWEEK.
Facebook also talked up what it called
, a new authentication scheme where users would be
asked to identify their Facebook "friends" in photographs if there is
suspicion their account has been compromised.
"Instead of showing you a traditional captcha on Facebook, one of the
ways we may help verify your identity is through social authentication," blogged Alex Rice
a security engineer with Facebook. "We will show you a few pictures of
your friends and ask you to name the person in those photos. Hackers halfway
across the world might know your password, but they don't know who your friends
Perhaps ironically, news of the changes followed reports that a fan page for
CEO Mark Zuckerberg
had been compromised to post the following message:
"Let the hacking begin: If Facebook needs money, instead of going to the
banks, why doesn't Facebook let its users invest
in Facebook in a social way? Why not transform
Facebook into a 'social business' the way Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus
described it? http://bit.ly/fs6rT3 What do you think? #hackercup2011."
The message came a few days after Facebook announced it had raised $1.5
billion in funding from
Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies
, bringing the company's total
value to $50 billion.