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Browsers add new ‘anti-tracking’ feature ~...

James (Jim) Hillier's Photo James (Jim) Hillier 16 Feb 2011
The latest round of the ‘Browser Wars’ sees all three big guns introducing a new ‘anti-tracking’ feature in their latest versions. In an obvious attempt to appease the privacy watchdogs, this new innovation is aimed at thwarting the collection of user data and usage statistics.

But will it work? In my opinion the answer is an emphatic no; in each case the methodology used is fundamentally flawed:

Microsoft’s approach, included in the latest Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate, relies far too heavily on user intervention. In their method it is the user who is required to ‘manage’ which sites should or should not be allowed to track browsing habits. I cannot envisage your ‘average’ user taking the time and effort to manage a component whose effects are essentially invisible to them.

Google’s solution is not even built into their Chrome browser and is available only via a “Keep My Opt-outs” extension. Not only does Google’s method require users to be aware of the extension and install it, but the ability of the extension to prevent online tracking relies wholly on the self-regulating efforts of the responsible advertising agencies.

Mozilla’s ‘Do Not Track’ feature has been included in the latest Firefox 4 beta release and, if enabled, adds requests from the browser to Web sites letting them know that the user does not want to be tracked; that is providing the Web site is paying attention in the first place and then chooses to give a damn.

So, essentially none of them have taken the responsibility into their own hands. Microsoft relies solely on end users managing the situation while both Google and Mozilla are relying heavily on the discretion of those responsible for the tracking in the first place.

It all smacks of a pretty feeble effort more geared toward placating the privacy watchdogs than actually providing a useful service for their end users. Or am I perhaps being a tad harsh?

What do you think?

marko's Photo marko 28 Feb 2011
Unfortunately Jim, all this effort is wiped out in a flash when a lot of people fail to adhere to the most important security aspect of using a PC ... the users!. It's often the case that when people load up their machines with the latest antivirus, anti-spyware and all manner of firewalls and other security gadgetry they often feel somewhat invincible and that's when the issues start :P :blink: :unsure:

Contrary to popular belief, it is still possible to contract a virus and all manner of spyware and other nasties even with the best and updated antivirus and anti-apyware software installed depending on which sites are visited and what activity goes on with a computer - god knows I've had to deal with plenty in my many years in IT, and that's just businesses!! Different ball game altogether when dealing with family and friends :)

As for browser tracking, if you're asking websites to stop tracking people then forget it, it just won't happen - as a responsible website owner myself I do not collect any other information other than logs we collect for statistical purposes, we don't keep a log of IP addresses, etc, other than what our data center does to adhere to data law, but I'm a tad confused on how a browser behind a router can mask it's IP address anyway, this comes from the router, not the browser, so unless you configure your router to be invisible on the net then I don't see how a bit of software from a browser can prevent tracking as such?