EFF-led group wants to give do-not-track some bite

The initiative is the first credible attempt to define what "do not track" actually means, according to backer

For years now, checking the "do-not-track" option on your browser has been little more than wishful thinking on the part of users who care about privacy online. But now a group led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation is looking to make that a more meaningful action.

The EFF and others have published a standard policy it hopes advertisers, analytics companies and publishers will adopt in order to respect the wishes of users who don't want to be tracked online. Getting the support needed to make a real difference will be an uphill battle, they acknowledge.

The policy document specifies what a website needs to do to honor the wishes of users whose browsers have DNT (do not track) turned on. DNT is an option in browsers and mobile operating systems (iOS and Firefox OS) that uses an HTTP header to tell websites that the users doesn't want to be tracked.

"This initiative is the first credible attempt to define "do not track" as a privacy mechanism that means what consumers reasonably believe it to mean," said Casey Oppenheim, CEO at privacy tool company Disconnect, which was involved in drafting the policy.

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and others have done a great job defining DNT as a signaling mechanism, but there is still no consensus on defining what DNT actually means, according to Oppenheim. The advertising and data collection industries have essentially argued that "do not track" means "do not target," meaning tracking is fine, but the collected data can't be used to target ads, he said.

Advocacy group European Digital Rights (EDRi) gave the news from EFF a thumbs up. Because the W3C is still a long way from getting consensus on what DNT means, the development of such a policy outside the W3C is welcome, Walter van Holst, who sits on the board of Dutch EDRi member Vrijschrift, said in a statement provided by EDRi.

From EFF's and Disconnect's point of view, when users who have opted for DNT interact with a compliant website or domain, they should be treated as someone about whom nothing is known or remembered. However, the policy allows for some exceptions. Aggregated and anonymized records can be kept and used for modeling and usage statistics, according to EFF. Sites that obtain clear and informed consent before collecting data, remain DNT-compliant, it said.

The pitch is that this will be good for users as well as advertisers, analytics companies, and publishers. Along with tools like Disconnect, Privacy Badger, and AdBlock, the policy lets consumers protect themselves from invisible tracking on the Web, according to Oppenheim. And companies that support the standard show they respect their users' right to privacy and have more opportunities to interact with users who otherwise could block them altogether, he said.

Also backing the effort are publishing site Medium, analytics service Mixpanel, AdBlock, and privacy centric search engine DuckDuckGo. For example, Mixpanel will be rolling out a compliant analytics service that will make it simple for any publisher to collect analytics data in a manner consistent with the policy.

The challenge is get a critical mass of supporters onboard, and a lot more are needed to make a real difference.

"This standard has the potential to bridge the gap between privacy concerns and online advertising. We just need more partners to commit," Oppenheim said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags advertisingMixpanelsecurityadblockdisconnectinternetprivacyElectronic Frontier FoundationMedium

More about EFFElectronic Frontier FoundationW3CWorld Wide Web Consortium

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Mikael Ricknäs

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place