The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has formed a coalition to launch a new Do Not Track policy standard to better protect web browsers from having their internet activity tracked. Browser extension AdBlock, privacy company Disconnect, search engine DuckDuckGo, publishing site Medium, and analytics service Mixpanel, all join the EFF in the effort to improve internet privacy.
The Do Not Track feature can already be found on all major web browsers, as well as the FirefoxOS and iOS mobile operating systems. Coupled with privacy software, it allows web users to prevent companies and organisations from secretly monitoring their web activity. One of the most clear examples of web tracking without consent is the appearance of adverts based on a user's recent browsing history.
"We are greatly pleased that so many important web services are committed to this powerful new implementation of Do Not Track, giving their users a clear opt-out from stealthy online tracking and the exploitation of their reading history. These companies understand that clear fair practices around analytics and advertising are essential not only for privacy but for the future of online commerce," said EFF chief computer scientist Peter Eckersley.
According to the coalition, the new standard is stronger and more realistic than its predecessor, though it still remains a voluntary policy that websites do not have to abide by. Due to no legal requirements being in place for sites to respect a visitor's Do Not Track preferences, critics have suggested it is ineffective.
Site operators who choose to adopt the new standard will be required by US law to honour such commitments under deceptive practice policies put in place by the Federal Trade Commission. The new standard will work in tandem with current adblocking preferences and it is hoped that a message will be sent to the online advertising industry that users are unhappy with aggressive web tracking.
"The failure of the ad industry and privacy groups to reach a compromise on DNT has led to a viral surge in ad blocking, massive losses for internet companies dependent on ad revenue, and increasingly malicious methods of tracking users and surfacing advertisements online," said Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim. "Our hope is that this new DNT approach will protect a consumer's right to privacy and incentivize advertisers to respect user choice, paving a path that allows privacy and advertising to coexist."