Firefox, Chrome to gain 'do not track' functionality

Browser manufacturers are heeding the Federal Trade Commission's proposal in December of last year to create a 'do not track' system, with both Google and Mozilla saying they plan to add the functionality in coming versions of their respective browsers.

Microsoft was actually first to officially announce support for the feature last month. The Redmond company said at the time it would appear in Internet Explorer 9, and allow users to opt out of sharing information with sites they do not trust. Users would be able to create whitelists and blacklists for sharing browser data.

The system in Firefox would apparently be slightly different, and require the data trackers themselves to honor the wishes of those users who select not to be tracked. The instructions to not track the user are sent with the HTTP header, but this would require the website itself to be configured to read such instructions.

No companies have so far agreed to participate, nor is it clear if the feature would be ready in time for the next release of Mozilla's browser, slated to occur within months.

Google also announced anti-tracking functionality for Chrome, available through an add-in. Again it relies on the industry's participation in order for it to work; meaning that it would be useless if the site is not participating in efforts such as the Network Advertising Initiative, a group that aims to promote and educate on the industry's data collection and management processes.

The disparate methods in which the three major browser makers are employing in dealing with browser data sharing shows what little agreement there is on handling the issue. Mozilla's might be the easiest to implement since the information on whether tracking is permitted or not would be sent every time the browser user surfs to a website.

Regardless, in the end it's up to the advertisers themselves to agree to participate. In the past, that hasn't happened: do not track was originally slated to appear in Microsoft's IE8 browser, but was pulled after advertisers claimed the technology would hurt their business. Will the industry use the same excuse again? Only time will tell.

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