Mozilla Firefox received the early edge over the Google Chrome Web browser in a head-to-head match-up of software tools that let users elude ad-tracking cookies, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Mozilla Jan. 23 introduced its Do Not Track HTTP header that will allow users to opt out of online behavioral tracking by advertisers with every click or page view in Firefox, which is used by roughly one quarter of the world's Web users.
The tool is not yet available, but when it is and users choose to enable it in their Firefox installation, Websites will be told by Firefox that a user would like to opt out of online behavioral tracking.
Google followed Mozilla Jan. 24 with Keep My Opt Outs, a Chrome browser extension that lets users permanently opt out of being tracked online by advertisers' cookies.
However, it only enables opt-out from some 50 ad networks in the Network Advertising Initiative that already let people decline targeted ads with a cookie-based tool. These include Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others.
Both Mozilla's and Google's moves, quasi-celebrations ahead of Data Privacy Day on Jan. 28, follow the Federal Trade Commission's December call for a "do not track" mechanism that would let users restrict advertisers from collecting information about Web searches they make, Websites they visit and links they click.
Both Mozilla's and Chrome's tools are flawed in the sense that, while they are easy to enable and install, consumers simply won't be aware of them. Beyond pop-up messages or word of mouth, it's unlikely either company will advertise the availability of tracking opt-outs as a great thing for consumers to try.
But which one is better, if there is a "better" for any such solutions bolted on instead of baked in from the start?
Mozilla Technology and Privacy Officer Alex Fowler argued that blocking ads at the header is both easy to use and a more persistent opt-out mechanism compared with ad cookie-crunching methods or blacklists. Ars Technica offered a fine technical drill-down into the difference between Mozilla's and Google's approaches.
Privacy advocates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation prefer Mozilla's header approach. EFF advocate Rainey Reitman noted that cookie-based opt-out schemes are complex because companies need to opt in before it can work and new types of cookie need to be created for each of them.
Moreover, privacy-conscious users delete their cookies regularly, which means the opt-out keeps turning itself off. Finally, these cookie-based solutions allow fake opt-outs that protect users from targeted ads but don't prohibit online tracking.
So much for the approaches by the NAI and Google. A Google spokesperson stressed that the Chrome cookie cutter is "just a first step" and defended the fact that it only enables tracking opt-out from the existing NAI members.
"We think it's more effective to begin with what currently exists so that there is a real tool in the marketplace that users can use right now," Google said.
"All of the major ad networks are already members of the NAI. ... We're building on that work by offering this extension. And as always, our engineers are always looking into new tools to give people more transparency and control over their online privacy."