Mozilla, developer of the popular Internet browser, Firefox, has introduced a new way for users to opt-out of online behavioral advertising. This introduction follows interests expressed last month by the FTC to develop a do-not-track system and by the Obama administration to create an online “privacy bill of rights” centered around data-gathering.
Details about this new privacy feature are outlined in First Person Cookie, a blog maintained by Mozilla’s Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader, Alexander Fowler. This feature enables user to configure their browsers to let websites and advertisers know that they would like to opt-out of behavior-based advertising. The intention of the user is then communicated to websites and various third party ad servers via a “Do Not Track HTTP” header. The feature is not enabled by default, but with a simple checkmark, users can stop websites from collecting their data and using the data for marketing purposes. Most opt-outs that are currently available prevent data usage, but not data collection.
But why create a new solution for a problem that has previously been handled by blacklists and cookies? According to Fowler’s blog post, this header system is less complex and more persistent. The header is transmitted with every click or page view, and is “clearer and more universal.”
While there may be some concerns for Internet marketers, the feature does not block advertising altogether. Rather, it blocks only personalized ads and replaces them with standard ads. There is also no word on how Mozilla’s rivals, Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. will react. According to The Wall Street Journal, both Microsoft and Google operate online advertising business that utilize tracking tools. While Firefox does not control an ad business, a large amount of its funding comes from an ad agreement with Google.
Competition was formerly focused around speed and technological features rather than privacy, but it may prove to be a very hot issue in the upcoming months. Last month, Microsoft announced that it would be including a privacy feature in Internet Explorer 9 that would enable users to stop certain websites and tracking companies from monitoring their usage. The Wall Street Journal also reports that Monday, Google plans to introduce “Keep My Opt-Outs,” which allows Chrome Web users to opt out of ad-targeting from a wide variety of companies permanently.