Right now there are few choices about who follows us on the net. You may argue that none of the tracking that occurs can connect my identity with a piece of data. However, in the aggregate sifting that is data mining algorithms exist to identify users. The ability to frustrate these trackers is essential to those of us who are somewhat paranoid as to where this ultimately leads. Today the trackers are benign advertisers, tomorrow who knows?
A woman stands in front of a wall depicting a computer user at the CeBIT high-tech fair in Hanover, central Germany. As concern about online privacy grows, Mozilla is promising to let people cloak Internet activity in free Firefox Web browsing software being released early next year.
Microsoft this month unveiled increased privacy options for the upcoming version of its popular Web browser Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) including a feature “to help keep third-party websites from tracking your Web behavior.” Microsoft said “Tracking Protection” will be built into a test version of IE9 being released early next year. IE9 users will have to be savvy enough to activate the feature and create lists of the third-party websites that they do not want to track their behavior.
Internet Explorer is the most widely used Web browser in the United States followed by Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari. Google, which beefed up Chrome in recent weeks and is testing a notebook computer that operates on the Web browser software, cautioned that the mechanics and ramifications of stealth browsing need to be figured out.
“The idea of ‘Do Not Track’ is interesting, but there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what ‘tracking’ really means, nor how new proposals could be implemented in a way that respects people’s current privacy controls,” said the company, also based in Mountain View. “We look forward to ongoing dialogue about what ‘Do Not Track’ could look like, and in the meantime we are always looking into new tools to give people more transparency and control over their online privacy.”
Kovacs agreed that the issue is complicated, with vested interests that include advertisers paying for services or content offered free online. Supporters of targeted online ads argue that Internet users benefit from getting pitches tailored to their interests.
Firefox believes perils to privacy online are urgent enough to warrant building stealth into the coming version of its browser software, which has 400 million users around the world.
“I fundamentally believe that the balance is tipped too far,” Kovacs said of tracking Web users. “You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.”
(c) 2010 AFP