Google Offers Privacy Plug-In for Chrome

Since a December Federal Trade Commission report proposed a do-not-track program using a persistent cookie-like browser setting, browser firms have heeded that call. Google, maker of the Chrome browser, today unveiled a Keep My Opt-Outs plug-in for opting out of behavioral tracking and targeting; the plug-in works in conjunction with the industry’s self-regulatory initiative. Meanwhile, Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, on Sunday proposed a do-not-track header allowing people to opt out of behavioral ads.

Google’s extension for Chrome allows users to permanently opt out of ad tracking cookies. Once applied to the browser, the system removes users from tracking by companies that have signed on to the Digital Advertising Alliance’s opt out program.

“As more companies adopt the industry privacy standards…opt-outs will be automatically added to Keep My Opt-Outs. As with all Chrome extensions, you’ll be asked to allow Chrome to update the extension,” Google stated in its description of the new feature. The extension does not allow users to pick and choose which tracking cookies to allow.

In December, the FTC made waves with a privacy report that backed the development of a persistent cookie-like browser setting. That setting would notify third party ad tracking and targeting firms that a consumer does not want to be tracked or receive targeted ads.

Google, among the largest online ad sellers, made it clear that by enabling its new extension, Chrome users could alter their web experiences for the worse. “Without a cookie, the ads you see on the web are likely to be less relevant and diverse. It also may result in less profitable ads for your favorite websites,” noted the Keep My Opt-Outs FAQ section.

Mozilla’s browser opt-out feature has yet be implemented. The company yesterday introduced it to its technical community for discussion, and said it will develop additional technologies for protecting user privacy in the future.

Suggesting that its proposed do-not-track method will satisfy the FTC’s request for a non-cookie-based system, Mozilla stated in a January 23 blog post, “The advantages to the header technique are that it is less complex and simple to locate and use, it is more persistent than cookie-based solutions, and it doesn’t rely on user’s finding and loading lists of ad networks and advertisers to work.” The HTTP header would work by alerting ad networks that someone using Firefox has opted out from third party behavioral ad tracking and targeting.

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Like the industry’s own self-regulatory initiative operated by the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Mozilla approach relies on industry players to adopt it. In a post on the firm’s wiki, Mozilla said, “When the header is turned on it will send a signal to the website that the user would like to opt-out of tracking by third parties. This does not force an opt-out or currently require that websites comply. Our hope is that by implementing this header other browsers and websites will adopt and maintain it. It is the first step in developing a setting that clearly gives users a voice and a way to communicate with websites.”

The feature would require users of its upcoming Firefox 4 browser to enable it, rather than being a default setting, the company noted in the wiki post. The browser version is currently in beta.

In December, a Mozilla spokesperson told ClickZ News do-not-track does not provide a comprehensive solution to protecting privacy. “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 at the time. Mozilla called the HTTP header “the first of many we’re planning on investing in to help put users in control of their online experience.”

Microsoft said in December it will add a “Tracking Protection” feature to the next version of its IE browser allowing users to opt out of receiving third party behavioral ad tracking cookies.

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