EFF Beefs Up ‘Do Not Track’ Standard

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Electronic Frontier Foundation and co create stronger “Do Not Track” (DNT) standard, but will advertisers care?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a number of other groups have created a stronger “Do Not Track” (DNT) setting for Web browsing.

The new stronger policy standard is designed to stop websites and advertisers from tracking the web browsing habits of people.

Do Not Track

The DNT policy was created by the EFF, as well as privacy company Disconnect and a coalition of Internet companies including publishing site Medium, analytics service Mixpanel, ad- and tracker-blocking extension AdBlock, and private search engine DuckDuckGo.

The new DNT policy claims to be “stronger” than other DNT standards. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a “do not track” policy for example.

privacyThe EFF meanwhile says that its new policy is best used in conjunction with privacy software to “better protect users from sites that try to secretly follow and record their Internet activity, and incentivize advertisers and data collection companies to respect a user’s choice not to be tracked online.”

“We are greatly pleased that so many important Web services are committed to this powerful new implementation of Do Not Track, giving their users a clear opt-out from stealthy online tracking and the exploitation of their reading history,” said EFF chief computer scientist Peter Eckersley. “These companies understand that clear and fair practices around analytics and advertising are essential not only for privacy but for the future of online commerce.”

At the moment, DNT is a preference on Firefox, Chrome, but has long been a default setting for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Tracking the online surfing habits of web users is common for advertisers and other third parties and typically occurs without the knowledge, permission, or consent of web users. The new standard wants websites to treat web users who have selected the DNT option, to treat them as an unknown users, about whom nothing is remembered or known. That said the EFF standard does allow for an exception, in that aggregated and anonymized records can be kept and used for modeling and usage statistics.

It also points that websites that obtain clear and informed consent from web users before collecting data, will remain DNT-compliant.

It should be noted that the new DNT standard is not an ad- or tracker-blocker, but it works in tandem with these technologies. Ad-blockers are of course not liked by advertisers, and earlier this year Eyeo (the parent company of AdBlock Plus) once again successfully defended itself in a German court.

Online Privacy

“The failure of the ad industry and privacy groups to reach a compromise on DNT has led to a viral surge in ad blocking, massive losses for Internet companies dependent on ad revenue, and increasingly malicious methods of tracking users and surfacing advertisements online,” said Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim.

“Our hope is that this new DNT approach will protect a consumer’s right to privacy and incentivize advertisers to respect user choice, paving a path that allows privacy and advertising to coexist,” he added.

Indeed, online privacy is becoming a big users for some web users nowadays. Earlier this year, Symantec research found that one in three of us have provided false information online in order to safeguard our privacy.

Last month, Google announced a country-wide roadshow in the UK to train Brits in how to protect themselves and ensure their privacy and safety whilst online.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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