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-
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
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
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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