US wants ‘do not track button’ for web consumersCalls for opt-out for tracking cookies

03 December 2010

Online privacy

American regulators are calling for the introduction of a ‘do not track’ button which would allow you to opt-out of tracking or behavioural cookies.

Tracking cookies are small pieces of software that monitor your surfing habits and then present you with targeted ads; so if you’ve been browsing information for Apple’s iPad, for example, you may see an advertisement for this on the next site that you visit.

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Privacy self-regulation not working

The US Federal Trade Commission says consumers should have an easy way to opt-out: ‘Self-regulation in privacy has not worked adequately,’ said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, speaking to Reuters. ‘A legislative solution will surely be needed if industry doesn't step up to the plate.’

Google welcomes the move. ‘The FTC raises some interesting ideas and we look forward to learning more about what Do Not Track could look like,’ said a Google spokesperson.

Unclear how 'do not track' button would work

Similarly, privacy advocates see this as a step in the right direction but say how the button will work is key to its success, or otherwise.

‘If you look at Google Street View there’s an opt-out button for your house or whatever but it’s translucent and tiny and on the bottom left hand corner of the screen so most people can’t find it. We’d want the button to live in your [browser] toolbar alongside the forward and back button,’ said Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch.

However, for a browser based approach all the main browser makers including Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari would need to work together.

‘If you leave it to browsers to do it [opt-out button] the risk is a newer alternative will spring up which offers fewer protections which advertisers support,’ says Deane.

Rob Reid, scientific policy advisor for Which? said: ‘The development of a do not track button would give consumers more control over what data they share with whom. As such this would be an improvement for consumers and a step in the right direction.’

Opting out of tracking

Any opt-out button is likely to be years away. Until then, Network Advertising Initiative offers an option for opting out of tracking cookies.


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