[LINK] Do-Not-Track

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Tue Nov 30 22:46:15 AEDT 2010

Perhaps a *good* reason to use Mozilla in future. Even though, allegedly,
Mozilla are not immune to ad-industry pressure. Do-Not-Track? Yes please.
I have *never* visited a porn etc site, ever, but, tracking's just wrong.

Firefox-maker Mozilla mulls do-not-track tool 

Julia Angwin and Spencer Ante From: The Wall Street Journal, Nov 30, 2010

THE makers of the popular Firefox web browser are exploring ways to 
create a do-not-track mechanism. 

This could offer internet users a way to avoid being monitored online.

The effort comes just months after Firefox's creator, Mozilla, killed a 
powerful and new tool to limit tracking under pressure from an ad-
industry executive, The Wall Street Journal has learned. 

Mozilla says it didn't scrap the tool because of pressure, but rather out 
of concern it would force advertisers to use even sneakier techniques and 
could slow down the performance of some websites.

Meanwhile, online advertising company Lotame Solutions is also supporting 
efforts for an industry-created do-not-track mechanism. Lotame's powerful 
tracking technologies were featured in a front-page article in the 
Journal earlier this year.

The tensions reflect growing concern about the burgeoning trade in 
personal information online. 

Increasingly, advertisers don't want to simply buy ads online -- they 
want to buy access to specific people they consider most open to their 
message. The data-gathering industry is the subject of a Journal 
investigative report, "What They Know."

The idea of a do-not-track mechanism that could be built into web 
browsing software is gaining steam in Washington. 

This week, a House sub-committee on consumer protection is holding a 
hearing about do-not-track proposals and the Federal Trade Commission is 
expected to release an online privacy report that will promote a do-not-
track mechanism.

Officials from Mozilla and Lotame are expected to appear at a separate 
panel this week to discuss how the industry could create its own do-not-
track mechanism before "government tries to legislate how browsers 
function," according to the event organiser, Jules Polonetsky, director 
of the Future of Privacy Forum, an internet-industry funded think tank.

The group will discuss a technical method that would allow web browsers 
to broadcast a "do not track" message at a user's request.

For such a tool to work, browser makers would need to build in such a 
feature and tracking companies would need to agree to not to track users 
that use the tool.

"Our goal is to put the user in control but not overwhelm them," says 
Mike Shaver, vice president of engineering at Mozilla. Firefox, the 
second most popular browser, was used by about 23 pre cent of the world's 
web users in October, according to NetApplications.com. Microsoft's 
Internet Explorer was selected by 59 per cent of web users and Google's 
Chrome was used by about 9 per cent.

Lotame, which is based in New York, operates an ad network that reached 
about 84 million people in October. It builds detailed profiles on web 
users, including comments they type on websites, and sells that 
information to companies seeking customers.

"We strongly support transparency and choice for online consumers," 
Lotame said. "In this spirit, we'll continue to adopt new and innovative 
privacy management tools."

Currently, tracking companies aren't required by law to offer people an 
option of not being tracked, though some voluntarily offer a so-called  
"opt out."

Last week, the online-advertising industry unveiled a website, 
www.aboutads.info, which allows people to opt out of 58 tracking 
companies, including Lotame, with a single click. Mike Zaneis, senior 
vice president at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said "we've built 
the functional equivalent of do-not-track."

However, those 58 companies are only a portion of the tracking industry. 

Earlier this year, the Journal found 131 companies that installed 
tracking tools on computers of visitors to the top 50 US websites. 

Former ad executive Jim Brock has compiled a list of 274 companies on his 
website, PrivacyChoice.org, that use tracking technology.

Of those companies, Mr Brock has found 171 companies offer an opt-out 
option. To opt out, a consumer usually must install a file on their 
machine -- called a cookie -- that prevents data about the individual 
from being used for targeted advertising. Opting out doesn't prevent the 
user's information from being collected.

"The current cookie based opt-out system is clumsy and fails too often," 
says Mr Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum.

Concerns about the effectiveness of opt-outs have prompted calls for a 
better method of blocking tracking. 

In 2007, nine privacy groups wrote a letter to the FTC calling for a "Do 
Not Track" list modelled on the Do Not Call registry that prohibits 
telemarketing phone calls. However, it's not easy to create a list of 
computers to not be tracked, so the proposal died.

The idea resurfaced earlier this year when privacy researchers came up 
with the notion of installing small bit of code in a web browser that 
would essentially broadcast a message to every website saying "do not 
track this user." It would only work if tracking companies would agree to 
honour the user's request. So far, no tracking companies have signed on.

Neither have any commercial browser makers. Google and Microsoft both 
said they are awaiting details of a do-not-track proposal before taking a 
position. Apple, which makes Safari, the fourth most popular web browser, 
declined to comment.

The Journal reported earlier this year that Microsoft had scaled back 
some privacy features in Internet Explorer 8 under pressure from the 
advertising industry.

Mozilla, which is run by a non-profit foundation that receives the 
majority of its revenue from Google, has also received pressure from 
advertisers about its efforts to limit tracking.

In May, Mozilla engineer Dan Witte proposed a mechanism that caused 
cookies to automatically expire when a user closed his or her web 
browser. (By comparison, most tracking cookies last for years). It only 
affected tracking cookies -- not cookies that websites use to remember 
users' passwords or shopping cart information.

Mr Witte's proposal was inserted into a developers' version of the 
Firefox browser on May 28. By early June, however, the news trickled out 
to advertising industry executive Simeon Simeonov.

Mr Simeonov is the co-founder of a company, Better Advertising, that 
provides technology to online-ad companies. When he heard about the 
change, Mr Simeonov said he worried it "would have broad, unforeseen 
impact on the consumer experience and perhaps even on the web ecosystem."

Mr Simeonov reached out to the chief executive of Mozilla, who put him in 
touch with Jay Sullivan, vice president of products at Mozilla. The two 
spoke on June 9. Mr Sullivan said Mr Simeonov expressed concern that the 
change would prompt advertisers to "go underground" to conduct even more 
surreptitious forms of tracking. Mr Sullivan said that Mr Simeonov's 
comments "supported what we were already thinking."

Mr Sullivan added that Mr Simeonov was one of many people who expressed 
concerns about the change, including representatives from companies that 
use tracking tools to provide web statistics and companies that host 
content on behalf of other companies. He said the tool would have slowed 
down or hampered the performance of those companies.

The software was removed from the Firefox prototype on June 10. 

Mr Sullivan said it's not unusual for proposed changes to be 
rejected. "We haven't precluded making all these changes but we didn't 
want to do it two weeks before the release" of a new test version of the 
browser, he said. The final version of the browser will be released early 
next year; it does not include any new tools to limit tracking.

Mr Shaver rejected the notion that Mozilla's decisions may be influenced 
by the advertising industry. Rather, he said Mozilla is driven by the 
needs of web users and its mission that the internet must remain open and 

In its most recent financial statements, Mozilla disclosed about $US86 
million ($89m) of its $US104m in 2009 revenue came from an advertising 
agreement with Google.

"I wouldn't say we are under pressure from advertisers," said Mr 
Shaver. "They are a big part of the economics of the web. We want to 
understand what their needs are."



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