Yahoo late this year will institute a "Do Not Track" policy across all its Websites, joining such companies as Apple, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla in giving online consumers a tool to limit the amount of personal information that is collected.
Yahoo executives March 28 announced that users will be able to access the companys Do Not Track header by early summer, and will include Yahoos entire network, including such properties as Right Media and Interclick.
Yahoos Do Not Track solution, which the company has been working on since last year, is in line with policies developed by the Digital Advertising Alliance, an interest group that represents numerous advertising and media companies.
The Internet companys announcement comes amid a cacophony of noise surrounding the issue of online privacy. In recent months, top-tier companies like Facebook and Google have faced criticism from users and government agencies alike for the way they handle the issue of consumer privacy and for the amount of personal data they collect from their users. Such data can be used by advertisers to more easily target personalized ads to users.
Apple and Google in recent weeks also have come under fire for enabling iPhones and Android-based smartphones to share personal datasuch as photos and contactswith mobile apps that have been downloaded onto the devices. That has drawn the attention of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the issue.
At the same time, government agencies are weighing in. The Obama Administration in February unveiled what White House officials are calling a privacy bill of rights for online consumers, and the Commerce Department is expected to work with privacy advocates and companies to develop policies that adhere to the proposal. In addition, the FTC on March 26 issued its final report, calling on Congress to pass privacy legislation while at the same time encouraging the private sector to do a better job of self-policing.
The FTC also noted the amount of work that already has been done in developing Do Not Track policies.
In addition, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce Manufacturing and Trade was scheduled to hold a hearing on the issues of consumer privacy and innovation within the industry. Critics of the FTCs report said that many of the measures proposed in the document would significantly harm online commerce and stifle innovation. Advocates said companies should err on the side of consumer privacy.
At the beginning of its report, the FTC noted, "In todays world of smartphones, smart grids and smart cars, companies are collecting, storing and sharing more information about consumers than ever before. Although companies use this information to innovate and deliver better products and services to consumers, they should not do so at the expense of consumer privacy."
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz testified during the Congressional hearing, saying the industry is at a decisive moment for consumer privacy, and urging Congress to support Do Not Track legislation, according to the commission.
"While more work remains to be done on Do Not Track, the commission believes that the developments to date are significant and provide an effective path forward," Liebowitz testified.
Yahoo officials said its Do Not Track implementation will give users a simple step to let the company know their preferences. Such a Do Not Track header generally puts limits on the amount of online activity tracking cookies can monitor. The World Wide Web Consortium currently is working on a Do Not Track standard.
Some privacy advocates are concerned that as the standard moves through the process, it could be watered down into more of a Do Not Target standard.
Rival Google embraced Do Not Track policies for its Chrome browser in February, joining other vendors implementing the technology, including Microsoft in Internet Explorer, Mozilla in Firefox and Apple in Safari.