Mozilla to offer new feature for improved online privacy

But all browsers and websites would have to implement the technology for the system to work

Mozilla, the developer of the Firefox browser, is working a feature that will allow users to opt-out of online behavioral advertising.

The goal is to give users "a deeper understanding of and control over personal information online," Mozilla's head of privacy said in a blog posted on Sunday.

The feature will allow users to configure their Firefox browser to tell websites and advertisers that they would like to opt-out of any advertising based on their behavior, Alex Fowler [cq] wrote in his blog post. The user's preference is communicated to websites and third party ad servers using a new "Do Not Track HTTP header", which is sent with every click or page view in Firefox.

The feature wouldn't block advertising altogether, only personalized ads. If the user has enabled the feature, the advertiser would have to exchange the personalized ad for a standard ad, according to a diagram included in the blog post.

Mozilla believes the header-based approach will be better for the Web in the long run, compared to cookies or blacklists. Using a header is less complex, more persistent than cookie-based solutions and at the same time simple to locate and use. It doesn't rely on a user's finding and loading lists of ad networks and advertisers to work, Fowler wrote.

However, rolling out the feature will be a challenge. For it to work, both browsers and sites will have to implement it. To get past this issue, Mozilla wants to work with the technical community to standardize the header across the industry, according to Fowler. It is also proposing that the feature be considered for upcoming releases of Firefox.

Mozilla's announcement comes on the heels of a U.S. government call to improve online privacy. In December, the U.S. Department of Commerce recommended the creation of an online privacy bill of rights and an enforceable code of conduct for Internet firms handling consumer data and tracking Web users.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Mikael Ricknäs

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