April 18th, 2011

Google Holds Out Against ‘Do Not Track’ Flag


And then there was Chrome.

Apple made it clear this week that the next version of its Safari browser — which will ship with the upcoming version of Mac OS — will include the ability for users to tell websites not to track them, by using what’s known as the ‘Do Not Track’ header, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a technically simple change that Mozilla (the maker of Firefox) and Microsoft (the maker of IE) have already included in their newest browsers. Those companies included the change despite the fact that no one has actually defined what tracking is. So far only two ad networks, Blue Kai and Chitika, have pledged to obey the flag.

That leaves Chrome, the browser created by the online-advertising giant Google, alone in not supporting the nascent feature. And according to Google, it has no plans to do so anytime soon.

“The idea of ‘Do Not Track’ is interesting, but there doesn’t seem to be wide consensus on what ‘tracking’ really means, nor on how new proposals could be implemented in a way that respects people’s current privacy controls,” a Google spokeswoman told Wired.com by e-mail. “We’re encouraged that standards bodies are working on these issues, and we will continue to be involved closely.”

Instead of “Do Not Track,” Google says it offers a plug-in for Chrome called “Keep My Opt-Outs,” which prevents users from deleting opt-out cookies from advertising networks when they delete their cookies. Third-party ad networks, including Google’s Display Ad network, use cookies on the sites they advertise on to watch what users do across the net, in order to make guesses about their interests. They then can sell ad space at a premium to advertisers, offering them the opportunity to show ads for trucks only to young men interested in sports, for instance.

Currently, none of those networks pays any heed to users who choose to turn on the “Do Not Track” flag, but do pledge to respect opt-out cookies that can be set in bulk on the Network Advertising Initiative opt-out page. Google says it will have a version of the cookie-retaining plug-in for IE and Firefox soon.

The plug-in Google built mimics the functionality of one built by Indiana University security researcher Christopher Soghoian in 2009, drawing on Google’s own open source code. Ironically, Soghoian was also the first to suggest the idea of a DNT header, rather than a centralized list, and helped build the first prototype last summer.

Soghoian says Google’s current lack of support from its ad side is “pretty shocking,” given that the company just got slapped by the FTC over privacy.

Read more: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/04/chrome-do-not-track/


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