Firefox Aims to Go Beyond Do-Not-Track

  |  December 30, 2010   |  Comments

Mozilla, developer of the popular software browser, says do-not-track alone is not a fix for privacy on the Web.

Mozilla, developer of the popular Internet browser Firefox, said the next version of its software will not include a do-not-track mechanism for behavioral advertising.

An AFP report published last week suggested the company would include a privacy tool similar to the one recently announced by Microsoft for the launch of its IE9 browser, dubbed "Tracking Protection," which would essentially allow users to easily opt out of third-party tracking for behavioral ad targeting.

The introduction of that feature came after calls from the Federal Trade Commission for a browser-based opt-out mechanism, rather than the cookie-based solution currently being promoted by the online ad industry.

In a statement e-mailed to ClickZ News, a Mozilla spokesperson said do-not-track is just one approach and does not provide a comprehensive solution to the issue.

"Firefox 4 will not ship with what we envision is the end-to-end solution, we don't think any browser can today," the spokesperson said. Instead, the company intends to collaborate with industry to establish a common approach before it implements such a feature.

"Do-not-track represents one approach for how users might gain additional control over their data, but it is not a comprehensive fix for privacy on the Web. We have been working with other organizations to discuss ways to design the right solution and there is more work to do," the company said, adding, "Such a solution will need to work for the 2 billion people on the Web today and will require collaboration across the entire ecosystem… Once defined, we will ship that solution as part of Firefox to more than 400 million people worldwide."

The brower's next iteration, Firefox 4, will continue to offer its existing privacy controls, which includes a private browsing feature and control over cookie placement, among other features. The browser also supports numerous plug-ins that enable users to further control their privacy, such as AdBlock plus, which blocks the display of all ads to the browser when implemented. The FTC, however, has called for a single opt-out mechanism or browser button to supersede fragmented solutions such as those, providing users with a single tool to completely prohibit any third-party tracking.

In attempts to avoid that type of browser implementation as well as other potential restrictions from the FTC or lawmakers, the online ad industry has been working on a common method to enable users to opt out of third-party ad tracking. A group of technology companies and agencies dubbed the Digital Advertising Alliance is currently promoting a cookie-based opt-out solution, which consumers can access through an icon housed within ad creative that uses or collect behavioral data.

However, the FTC has suggested that approach is insufficient since users' choices would essentially be erased if and when they delete their cookies. In addition, the solution only applies to the use of HTML cookies, and would not prevent tracking through other technologies such as Flash cookies, for example.

For that reason the regulatory body has called for a browser-level opt-out approach, though it has provided little guidance as to how such a mechanism might work. As a result, it's not surprising that browser manufacturers are experimenting with different approaches, and that Mozilla is reluctant to roll out a do-not-track mechanism that could seriously impact users' use of the Internet without necessarily addressing the FTC's privacy concerns.


Jack Marshall

Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011. 

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