On-line privacy: Does it mean anything?

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.

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.
“Technology that supports something like a ‘Do Not Track’ button is needed and we will deliver in the first part of next year,” Mozilla chief executive Gary Kovacs said while providing a glimpse at Firefox 4 at the Mozilla’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.  “The user needs to be in control,” he added. There is a disturbing imbalance between what websites need to know about visitors to personalize advertisements or services and the amount of data collected, according to Kovacs.  “It is not that ads are bad,” he said. “It is what they do with my tracked behavior.  “Where I go on the Internet is how I live my life; that is a lot of data to hold just for someone to serve me ads.” 

Microsoft this month unveiled increased privacy options for the upcoming version of its popular  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  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 ,” 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


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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