The Do Not Track standard is falling apart due to a failure to agree on what obligations advertising companies have with regard to online tracking — and what the word “tracking” even means, , reports the Washington Post.
When the talks began, the ad industry touted a solution that’s already on the market: an opt-out mechanism whereby users can visit a Web site and choose not to receive targeted ads with the click of a button. Last year, a million people used the tool and more than 5 million visited the site, according to Luigi Mastria, a spokesman for the Digital Advertising Alliance, who testified at the Senate Commerce Committee in April.
Do Not Track signals a user’s opt-out preference with an HTTP header, a simple technology that is completely compatible with the existing web. While some third parties have committed to honor Do Not Track, many more have not.
“We appreciate the efforts of the W3C and all of the chairs to date,” wrote Lee Tien, a top lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “but EFF has lost confidence that the process will produce a standard that we would support. We therefore prefer that the group simply end. If the group continues, we would seriously consider dropping out.”
The opt-out function is meant to guarantee the end of targeted Web advertising, but it doesn’t rule out the collection of consumer data, said EFF’s Tien in an interview.
Today, online tracking companies use supercookies and fingerprints to follow people who try to delete their cookies. The leakage of user IDs from social networks and similar sites has also given advertisers an easy way to identify the people they were tracking.
Device fingerprinting collects the properties of PCs, smartphones, and tablets in order to create a unique identification. The fingerprint properties allow websites to track users without relying on the more common Internet cookies, which are not available on mobile apps. Supercookies are more difficult to remove, requiring the user to dig through the file system and delete them manually, an inconvenient task even for advanced users.
You can find out exactly how trackable you are by pointing your browser at the EFF’s Panopticlick website and taking their free browser fingerprint test, which rates how easy it is to uniquely identify you based on what information your browser is sharing and saving.
Google has updated its terms of service, which could allow your name or photo to appear in online ads. Here’s how to opt out.