Mozilla Plans ‘Do Not Track’ Option To Aid Privacy

Mozilla plans to develop a privacy feature that prevents advertisers from tracking Firefox users’ browsing habits

For those users who prefer to keep their web surfing habits to themselves, Mozilla’s plan to develop a “do not track” option for its Firefox browsers will be very welcome.

The news was revealed in a blog post by Alex Fowler, global privacy and public policy leader at Mozilla.

“The web is evolving quickly in how information about people is collected, used and shared online. We believe it’s crucial to put people in control of their personal web interactions and experiences, as previously articulated in my post on our draft Privacy & Data Operating Principles,” Fowler wrote. “In particular, we’re seeking ways to provide Firefox users a deeper understanding of and control over the flow of personal information online.”

Online Behavioural Advertising

“We’re pleased to be able to share one of these efforts today in the area known as “Do Not Track,” which is best understood in current policy discussions to provide a way for people to opt-out of online behavioural advertising (OBA),” he added.

“As the first of many steps, we are proposing a feature that allows users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header with every click or page view in Firefox,” Fowler said. “When the feature is enabled and users turn it on, websites will be told by Firefox that a user would like to opt-out of OBA. We believe the header-based approach has the potential to be better for the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out mechanism than cookies or blacklists.”

Mozilla’s plans to help boost users’ online right to privacy comes after the US Federal Trade Commission’s last month proposed a “Do Not Track” mechanism to give control over what consumer-data companies can collect and share.

However it remains to be seen whether the move will receive the crucial support and agreement of website owners for the privacy feature.

FireFox 4

Earlier this month Mozilla released its new Firefox 4 browser beta to the public, which offers a new look with an emphasis on speed for users to play with on Windows, Mac and Linux. Indeed it promises to be more than three times faster than the current Firefox 3.6.13 build.

It is not clear  whether this “do not track” option will be included in Firefox 4, but it seems unlikely that such a major feature would be included at this late stage.

Microsoft said last month it would offer a privacy setting in the next version of Internet Explorer.

Meanwhile, earlier in December, a browser bug was discovered that allowed software to interrogate browser history lists showing where a user has been. The bug has been exploited using JavaScript on sites that can ‘sniff’, or interrogate, the history list on visiting browsers.

Market Share

Mozilla is facing something of a problem at the moment with Firefox, which has long been viewed as the browser of choice for those not willing to buy into Microsoft’s domination of the desktop.

According to market share figures from Net Applications, both Firefox (22.8 percent) and Internet Explorer (58.4 percent) have stopped growing their market share.

Firefox (and IE) have been hurt by the arrival of Google’s Chrome web bowser, which has managed to reach 10 percent market share in two and a half years. This is because many IE and Firefox users have jumped ship to Chrome in the last two years.