Is it broke? Does it need Fixed?
Last month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a consumer privacy report. The commission is apparently concerned about advertising and tracking cookies, which many consider to be intrusive, but not dangerous. Tracking allows advertisers to target users with custom or localized advertisements. In hopes of fixing this issue, the report suggested that web browser makers should add a Do Not Trackmechanism.
It’s not surprising that the FTC would suggest something like this. Government bureaucrats are always offering suggestions on how free market economies should be fixed, even when they aren’t broken. However, it is surprising that only a few weeks later, Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome developers have already announced that they’ll be offering Do Not Trackin future versions of their browsers.
Alex Fowler, at Mozilla, announced support for Mozilla’s Do Not Track at his blog the other day. He said, we’re seeking ways to provide Firefox users a deeper understanding of and control over the flow of personal information online. We’re pleased to be able to share one of these efforts today â€¦.
When a web browser visits a web site, the site asks the web browser for some basic information before displaying the page. This information is transmitted in the HTTP header, and the new DNT (Do Not Track) warning will be added to this header. Once this warning is received by a web site, it’s up to them to decide whether or not to attempt to read and place tracking cookies in the browser’s cookie cache.
Two days ago, the Google Public Policy blog posted an article telling us how they are handling the FTC request for a Do Not Trackfeature in Chrome. They said, Today we are building on this work, and that of others, by allowing you to permanently opt out of ad tracking from all companies that offer opt-outs through the industry self-regulation programs.
The Keep My Opt-Outs extension takes advantage of already existing opt-out programs offered by the Network Advertising Initiative, which includes 50 different web tracking services. Later, an option will be added to the Chrome browser, with no need for an extension.
As usual, a Government agency is looking for problems to fix so they’ll be able to brag that they are useful sometimes. Nobody’s going to dispute their suggestions in this case, and paranoid consumers may actually benefit from this initiative.
It’s not surprising that the browser developers would jump onto the band-wagon. They’ll do anything to avoid provoking government agencies from putting a collar (or noose) around their necks. These browser changes are a cheap solution to a problem that many people didn’t consider as being serious.
Sometimes, an action like this can have unintended consequences. This time, it might be a win for everyone except the advertisers. What effect will these changes have on the web sites which depend on the advertising revenue?