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25 Feb 12 Google Chrome will adopt Do Not Track

do not track

Google has reversed its position on “Do Not Track,” committing to putting the technology front and center in its Chrome browser. But Web users everywhere still need to be wary.

Internet giant Google has reversed course on “Do Not Track” technology, committing to include the functionality in its Chrome browser. Although many browsers have implemented full and partial support for Do Not Track capabilities, Chrome was the last high-profile holdout that had resisted implementing the capability—an omission that was particularly significant since Chrome and Firefox are essentially tied for the number-two spot in the browser market.

“We’re pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘do-not-track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls,” Google Senior Vice President of Advertising Susan Wojcicki said in a statement to Bloomberg.

Do Not Track  is a technology and policy proposal which will allow users to opt out of the ability for websites to track them as they surf the internet. This includes being able to opt out of specific types of advertising, analytics software and social platforms (like Facebook or Twitter) where they can grab and store a users information and browsing habits.

All other major browsers have implemented support for Do Not Track in some fashion, including Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox. Apple’s Safari currently supports Do Not Track via an item in its hidden (by default) Developer menu (Apple claims the feature will be more apparent later this year in OS X 10.8 “Mountain Lion”), and Norway’s Opera software has just released an experimental version of its browser implementing Do Not Track.

Do Not Track is implemented as an HTTP header sent with every request for a Web page.  Essentially, when Do Not Track is enabled, a user’s Web browser tries to tell every page it accesses that the user does not want to participate in online tracking.

However, even if browsers send the Do Not Track header, Web sites at the other end still have to voluntarily implement support for the feature—if Web sites do nothing, users’ usage to the site will still be tracked and monitored (or not!) the same as any other user. Even if sites implement support for the Do Not Track header, they may interpret it differently. For instance, some sites may drop all information about that site visit from their logs and traffic analysis, some may collect some aggregate information but disable any analytics or advertising profiling they do and still others might ignore the directive entirely, either because they’re being duplicitous (having been hacked, or perhaps because they’re serving malware or part of a scam) or because they feel if a user signs into a site, their agreement to a site’s terms of service supersedes a general Do Not Track request.

So far, industry groups like the Digital Marketing Association have committed only to support Do Not Track only to the extent that they will not serve targeted ads—advertising based on a user’s tracked behaviors, searches, purchases, and social links. The companies will still serve ads, and some of those ads are likely to be targeted based on things like a user’s general location (as determined by IP address). The DMA has also indicated it will not honor Do Not Track headers if it determines that “any entity or software” other than an end user inserted the header. In other words, if a business or university configured its Web gateway to insert Do Not Track headers in all outgoing Web requests, members of the DMA would consider themselves free to ignore it. However, the Obama Administration’s just-released Consumer Data Privacy policy foresees the Federal Trade Commission being able to enforce compliance with Do Not Track…so long as a company commits to it.

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