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Google Agrees Not To Track Users, If They Ask Nicely

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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More than 400 companies agree to help implement the browser “do-not-track” button

Following the proposal of a privacy “bill of rights” by Obama’s administration, all of the major browser developers have agreed to include a “do-not-track” button in their products.

The option will prevent companies from collecting information about users’ Internet browsing patterns. Google is one of the highest profile companies to agree to participate in the initiative.

Stop tracking me!

Google has promised to embed a “do-not-track” button in its Chrome browser by the end of the year. It is not alone in this decision: the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which includes more than 400 companies and represents 90 percent of advertisers associated with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s ad networks, has agreed to help implement the decision, reports Bloomberg.

The “do-not-track” button will restrict the amount of information about your browsing habits companies will be able to collect. A big part of Internet advertising consists of “personalised” content, which is made possible by reading browser “cookies” – records of interaction with various websites. Companies like Google and Yahoo use this information to tailor advertising for each individual user.

The initiative will lose money for the advertising companies who signed up, so it seems likely they have sensed the prevailing climate of legislation. This do-not-track initiative was launched in the wake of the proposed privacy “bill of rights” in the US, similar to the new European Union data protection rules.

For the near future, the privacy bill of rights will be voluntary – there will be no court cases or prison terms. It is expected that laws to enforce the proposed bill will be developed later. However, the Federal Trade Commission will be able to name and shame (and punish) those who adopt the policies, but do not follow them, as it would constitute “deceptive acts or practices”.

DAA has stated it aims to make the one-click button available in nine months. It will become part of all major browsers, except for Apple’s Safari. The company is not part of the DAA, and does not have to abide by its decision. But do not be too quick to condemn Apple: it turns out that it has already offered a do-not-track option in its browser. The option to “tell websites not to track me” has been available in Safari preferences since last week, which positions Apple well ahead of the curve.

Google was recently taken to court over an alleged sidestepping of the Safari privacy controls.

Even with the “do-not-track” button in place and operational, browsers will still allow tracking for the purposes of market research, as well as “product development” and law enforcement.

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