W3C Publishes Online Privacy Drafts


Web standards maker W3C proposes a standard for “do not track” features in browsers

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) plans to help internet users protect their personal data by standardising the “do not track” feature which is already appearing in browsers.

The web standards-maker has published two drafts, the Tracking Preference Expression and the Tracking Compliance and Scope Specification, and invited browser developers, content providers, advertisers and experts in policy, privacy and consumer protection to review them, with a view to implementing them in 2012.

Privacy Challenges

W3C says that such standards are necessary because of increased privacy concerns that have accompanied the rise of web applications which collect data for website owners and advertisers.

While it recognises that some users appreciate the customisation options that result from this surrender of information, others regard it as intrusive and feel it is acquired without their consent.

The Tracking Preference Expression outlines the mechanisms for users to express what data they consent to reveal and for sites to indicate whether they honour these preferences, while the Tracking Compliance and Scope Specification defines the meaning of a “do not track” preference and sets out the practices for websites to comply with this preference.

According to W3C, the implementation of these standards will address the concerns of users and regulators and engineer a sense of trust in the industry by allowing users to express what data can be collected about them for tracking purposes.

Move To Standardisation

Dr Matthias Schunter of IBM Research commented, “Smarter commerce and marketing strategies can and must coexist with respect for individual privacy. Open standards that help design privacy into the fabric of how business and society use the Web can enable trust in a sustainable manner.”

“We know there are many types of users. Some eagerly welcome the benefits of personalized web services, while others value their privacy above all else,” said Aleecia M. McDonald of Mozilla Foundation, “Do Not Track puts users in control, so they can choose the tradeoffs that are right for them.”

W3C is an international consortium that works to promote and develop web standards. It has established community groups to promote developer participation in web standardisation and has worked towards delivering final specifications for HTML5.

Concerns about how websites collect information about users have increased recently, with Facebook denying that it was building “shadow profiles” by collecting data from non-users. However browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have already made moves to develop “do not track” options for their programs.

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