Firefox and Chrome are reacting to Whitehouse pressure and introducing Do Not Track tools to these browsers functionality.
By introducing this little piece of code Mozilla and Google hope to make it more difficult for advertisers to collect information on the users browsing habits and target personalized advertising. The browser will send a notification to the web site you visit which will tell advertisers you dont want them to collect data about where you are, where you have been and what you've been doing while browsing the web.
Targeted Advertising & Privacy
Currently its possible to gather the information about where youve been and collate an online behavioral advertising package. Click on a website for cars and advertisers know that youre interested in motor vehicles and customize the advertising thats sent to you accordingly.
Some people are in two minds about the implications of online behavioral advertising. To some its intrusive and erodes their right to a private life; to others receiving well targeted marketing materials for products they might actually be interested in is something they welcome.
The American governments Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission both recommended the makers of web browser to develop a method by which a users privacy could be protected.
The Commerce department suggested there should be a way of warning users that information was being gathered on their activities and they should then have the opportunity to opt out.
The FTC suggested a Do Not Track list which was the inspiration for the solution Mozillas Firefox and Googles Chrome have now implemented.
Mozilla produced a plugin that went up on 16th January and Googles plug in, entitled Keep My Opt-Outs was announced on the 17th.
Alex Fowler, head of their privacy arm blogged that this was just the first of a raft of products that would increase the privacy value experienced by Firefox users.
This is all great news for people who value their online privacy but the plugin solution has a fundamental failing: it relies on advertisers agreeing to take notice of your request. If the advertising agent chooses to ignore it and carry on as usual theres currently no means of making them concede to your wishes.
Fowler said: Our initial proposal does not represent a complete solution," but he hopes that subsequent editions of Firefox would be able to address this issue.
Currently theres no way of knowing how far browser producers will go beyond writing plugins such as Do Not Track to limit advertisers behavior.
Google isn't a charity: a vast percentage of their revenue comes from advertising. They dont wish to rock the (advertising) boat unduly.
Meanwhile Mozilla, while a non-profit, makes money from an arrangement with Google to share in advertising revenue.
Microsoft is said to have wanted to install an advertising blocking plugin to IE 8 but buckled under pressure from their advertising business partners. In IE 9 -- still in the development stage " there might be a black list function which users would have to manually populate.
Safari and Opera, the other two of the major five internet browsers, haven't made any announcements concerning ending targeted advertising.
What This Means For You
[Ed.] Advertising-disruptive technology has been available for popular browsers for a while. There are plugins that can block all advertisement on sites. Other plugins prevent Flash, a popular advertising display tool, from showing up. The Do No Track plugins don't go that far and simply "ask" advertising platforms to not track and store certain information.
If you own sites where revenue depends on advertising you still need not worry. While targeted advertising can be very effective, creating topic specific pages with matching ads and upsells can easily be turned into a "close enough" solution.
Meanwhile the large advertisement delivery systems will adapt and use fallback options: if a user doesn't want to be tracked and doesn't want targeted ads, show site topic specific ads.
Finally, privacy can be turned into a premium feature, something your company or web site excels at. Privacy is a commodity.