Since our introduction of DoNotTrack.Us last week we've received a deluge of questions. This post answers some of the most common inquiries. If we haven't covered an issue you'd like a response on, shoot us an email and stay tuned - more Q & A posts are in the pipeline.
Q: Do Not Track does not block third-party tracking. Wouldn't that be a better solution?
Some privacy-conscious users block third-party tracking, most commonly through browser add-ons. This type of self-help is completely compatible with and complementary to Do Not Track; many Do Not Track users may elect to use blocking software. But blocking alone is not a complete solution to web tracking. Here are our chief concerns:
- Universal blocking is infeasible. Web security research (1, 2, 3) has uncovered dozens of means of tracking users; technical barriers to all these approaches are not practical. And a recent informal study of popular Firefox blocking add-ons suggests that blocking is, in practice, far from a universal opt out. Users should not be left guessing as to whether they've actually opted out of tracking.
- Blocking software requires perpetual development and user vigilance. There is frequent turnover of tracking services and tracking technologies. If a developer takes a break, its blocking tool will diminish in effectiveness. Users must, consequently, periodically ensure their blocking software is still maintained and up-to-date.
- Blocking inhibits third-party tools. A number of popular website tools and plug-ins are hosted by a third party that also tracks users. Blocking would disable these tools, while Do Not Track accommodates them.
The web privacy debate is stuck. Privacy proponents decry the diffusion of behavioral advertising and tracking services (1, 2, 3); industry coalitions respond by expounding the merits of personalized content and advertising revenue (1, 2). But for the average user, the arguments are academic: there is no viable technology for opting out of web tracking. A registry of tracking services, like privacy advocates proposed years ago, is cumbersome and unmanageable. Fiddling with cookies, as many advertising networks and anti-regulation advocates recommend, is an incomplete and temporary fix; both Google and NAI (an advertising industry association) have already moved away from opt-out cookies.
Do Not Track ends this standoff. It provides a web tracking opt-out that is user-friendly, effective, and completely interoperable with the existing web. The technology is simple: whenever your web browser makes a request, it includes an opt-out preference. It's then up to advertisers and tracking services to honor that preference – voluntarily, by industry self-regulation, or by law.
Arvind Narayanan and I have been researching Do Not Track for several months, and are pleased to now introduce DoNotTrack.Us, a compilation of what we've learned. The resource explains Do Not Track, provides prototype implementations, and answers some common questions. We'll be updating it in the coming months with new findings and responses to feedback.
Excited as we are about the Do Not Track technology, it is but a first step. Important substantive policy questions remain open: What tracking should be impermissible? When a user visits a site, what constitutes a third party? We look forward to collaborating with advertising networks, NGO's, regulators, lawmakers, and other stakeholders in answering these crucial questions. Read more » about Ending the Web Privacy Stalemate - DoNotTrack.Us
Late last year the Obama administration reopened talks with Russia over the militarization of cyberspace and assented to cybersecurity discussion in the United Nations First Committee (Disarmament and National Security). My intention in this three-part series is to probe Russian and American foreign policy on cyberwarfare and advance the thesis that the Russians are negotiating for specific strategic or diplomatic gains, while the Americans are primarily procedurally invested owing to the “reset” in Russian relations and changing perceptions of cyberwarfare.
John Mitchell and I have written a new paper that synthesizes research on policy and technology issues surrounding third-party web tracking. It will appear at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in May. Read more » about Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and Technology
"“I think it’s right to think about shutting down the process and saying we just can’t agree,” Mr. Mayer said. “We gave it the old college try. But sometimes you can’t reach a negotiated deal.”" Read more » about Do-Not-Track Talks Could Be Running Off the Rails
"The Verge Firefox is set to start blocking cookies from third-party ad networks by default, thanks to a patch submitted by Stanford law student and online privacy activist Jonathan Mayer. " Read more » about Boot up: brains v games, Windows 8 v the 90%, shrinking tablets grow, and more
"Jonathan Mayer, a researcher at Stanford, has contributed a patch for Firefox that will block third-party cookies from installing on the user's browser." Read more » about Firefox 22 will block third-party cookies
"Firefox is set to start blocking cookies from third-party ad networks by default, thanks to a patch submitted by Stanford law student and online privacy activist Jonathan Mayer." Read more » about Firefox to follow Safari, start blocking cookies from third-party advertisers
Have you ever borrowed a smartphone without asking? Modified a URL? Scraped a website? Called an undocumented API? Congratulations: you might have violated federal law! A 1986 statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), provides both civil and criminal remedies for mere "unauthorized" access to a computer. Read more » about Innovation or Exploitation?
Hosted by the Stanford Center for E-Commerce.
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm: Registration/Reception (Manning Faculty Lounge, second floor breezeway fo Stanford Law School) Read more » about Behavioral Advertising and Privacy Law Reboot - US and International Legal Trends and Best Practices for Internet, Cloud and E-Commerce Companies
The third edition of the Privacy Identity Innovation conference will be held in downtown Seattle this Spring. Taking place May 15-16 at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, pii2012 Seattle will explore how to protect sensitive information while enabling new technologies and business models. Read more » about Privacy Identity Innovation - pii2012
Sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society Technical Committee on Security and Privacy in cooperation with the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR). Read more » about IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy: Web Security
Jonathan Mayer, CIS Student Fellow, is co-chairing the Conference on Web Privacy Measurement.
This event is hosted by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.
Have you ever borrowed a smartphone without asking? Modified a URL? Scraped a website? Called an undocumented API? Congratulations: you might have violated federal law! A 1986 statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), provides both civil and criminal remedies for mere "unauthorized" access to a computer. Read more » about Innovation or Exploitation (Video)
Have you ever borrowed a smartphone without asking? Modified a URL? Scraped a website? Called an undocumented API? Congratulations: you might have violated federal law! A 1986 statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), provides both civil and criminal remedies for mere "unauthorized" access to a computer. Read more » about Innovation or Exploitation? (Audio)