Mozilla Proposes Firefox 'Do Not Track' Feature

 
 
By Brian Prince  |  Posted 2011-01-24
 
 
 

Mozilla is planning to take its own shot at improving user privacy controls online.

The company is looking to add a new feature to its Firefox browser that would enable users to opt-out of online behavioral tracking by advertisers. The move follows a December report from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that endorsed the idea of a "Do Not Track" mechanism that would allow Web users to choose whether they want to be tracked online.

At the time, the FTC suggested a setting similar to a persistent cookie on a consumer's browser and communicating that setting to sites that the browser visits. In response to the situation, Mozilla is proposing the creation of a Do Not Track HTTP header that will be transmitted "with every click or page view in Firefox," blogged Alex Fowler, Mozilla's Technology and Privacy Officer.

"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)," Fowler wrote. "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."

The header builds on the work the advertising networks have done, and is advantageous because it is simple to locate and use and is more persistent than cookie-based solutions, he wrote. It also doesn't rely on user's finding and loading lists of ad networks and advertisers to work, he added.

In their approach to the issue, Microsoft added what it calls a "Tracking Protection List" (TPL) to Internet Explorer 9 (IE9). The TPL contains Web addresses the browser will only visit if the user directly visits them by clicking on a link or typing in the address. The TPL would be empty by default, but can also be populated to include a list of -OK to Call' sites.

In the case of Firefox, users will need to enable the HTTP header in order for it to work, Mozilla explained. When the header is turned on it will send a signal to the Web site that the user would like to opt-out of tracking by third parties.

According to Fowler, the challenge facing Mozilla's proposal is that it requires both browsers and sites to implement it to be fully effective. The company recognizes "the chicken and the egg problem," he wrote.

"My colleagues are posting our proposal to the Mozilla community today for discussion, along with the technical patch to be considered for implementation in Firefox," he blogged. "We are also committed to working with the technical community to standardize the header across the industry. We ask that sites and advertisers join with us to recognize this new header and honor people's privacy choices just as they are with opt-outs for OBA."

More details of the proposal can be found here.

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