EFF-led group wants to give do-not-track some bite

The initiative is the first credible attempt to define what "do not track" actually means, according to backer

For years now, checking the "do-not-track" option on your browser has been little more than wishful thinking on the part of users who care about privacy online. But now a group led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation is looking to make that a more meaningful action.

The EFF and others have published a standard policy it hopes advertisers, analytics companies and publishers will adopt in order to respect the wishes of users who don't want to be tracked online. Getting the support needed to make a real difference will be an uphill battle, they acknowledge.

The policy document specifies what a website needs to do to honor the wishes of users whose browsers have DNT (do not track) turned on. DNT is an option in browsers and mobile operating systems (iOS and Firefox OS) that uses an HTTP header to tell websites that the users doesn't want to be tracked.

"This initiative is the first credible attempt to define "do not track" as a privacy mechanism that means what consumers reasonably believe it to mean," said Casey Oppenheim, CEO at privacy tool company Disconnect, which was involved in drafting the policy.

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and others have done a great job defining DNT as a signaling mechanism, but there is still no consensus on defining what DNT actually means, according to Oppenheim. The advertising and data collection industries have essentially argued that "do not track" means "do not target," meaning tracking is fine, but the collected data can't be used to target ads, he said.

Advocacy group European Digital Rights (EDRi) gave the news from EFF a thumbs up. Because the W3C is still a long way from getting consensus on what DNT means, the development of such a policy outside the W3C is welcome, Walter van Holst, who sits on the board of Dutch EDRi member Vrijschrift, said in a statement provided by EDRi.

From EFF's and Disconnect's point of view, when users who have opted for DNT interact with a compliant website or domain, they should be treated as someone about whom nothing is known or remembered. However, the policy allows for some exceptions. Aggregated and anonymized records can be kept and used for modeling and usage statistics, according to EFF. Sites that obtain clear and informed consent before collecting data, remain DNT-compliant, it said.

The pitch is that this will be good for users as well as advertisers, analytics companies, and publishers. Along with tools like Disconnect, Privacy Badger, and AdBlock, the policy lets consumers protect themselves from invisible tracking on the Web, according to Oppenheim. And companies that support the standard show they respect their users' right to privacy and have more opportunities to interact with users who otherwise could block them altogether, he said.

Also backing the effort are publishing site Medium, analytics service Mixpanel, AdBlock, and privacy centric search engine DuckDuckGo. For example, Mixpanel will be rolling out a compliant analytics service that will make it simple for any publisher to collect analytics data in a manner consistent with the policy.

The challenge is get a critical mass of supporters onboard, and a lot more are needed to make a real difference.

"This standard has the potential to bridge the gap between privacy concerns and online advertising. We just need more partners to commit," Oppenheim said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securityprivacyinternetadvertisingElectronic Frontier FoundationdisconnectadblockMediumMixpanel

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?