A new, higher standard for online privacy has been proposed by a coalition of influential Internet companies which seeks to further limit secret tracking of online activity.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), together with partners such as the advanced blogging platform Medium, popular privacy browser extensions Disconnect and Adblock as well as private search engine DuckDuckGo and online analytics company Mixpanel have proposed the new standard, which the coalition hopes will be adopted across the Internet.
The new “Do Not Track” (or DNT) standard is intended, in the words of EFF, “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.”
You no doubt notice from time to time as you browse the World Wide Web a small box pop up on many websites which lets you know the site tracks Internet cookies and allows you to opt out of that tracking if you choose. That was a standard set way back in 2009 and is in fairly common use today.
Despite current Do Not Track implementation available to Internet users tracking routinely takes place during the online adventures of millions of users – typically without their consent or knowledge – and is used by advertisers, advertising exchanges, social networks, data brokers, tracking companies and others to profile Internet users and target them with messages, ads and other communications. Ever notice how ads pop up on your screen based on recent searches or visits to websites? Sure you do and it no doubt creeps you out just a bit.
The new standard, says EFF, is not an ad blocker necessarily or specifically a tracker-blocker but it works in tandem with those technologies.
“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.”
The new proposal doesn’t carry any force of law or, even, rule but the coalition hope to persuade Internet companies and websites to voluntarily adopt the new standard advertising and, even, for widgets and analytics. It ask companies to post the standard, which is actually a document – and adhere to its limits.
“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.”