Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 31, 2013 - 08:03 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Privacy, mozilla, DNT
Mozilla Labs is researching a new approach to the problem of privacy and targeted advertising: allow the user to provide the data that honest advertisers intend to acquire via tracking behavior. The hope is that users who manage their own privacy will not have companies try to do it for them.
Internet users are growing concerned about how they are tracked and monitored online. Crowds rally behind initiatives, such as Do Not Track (DNT) and neutering the NSA, because of an assumed promise of privacy even if it is just superficial.
DNT, for instance, is a web developer tool permitting honest sites to be less shy when considering features which make privacy advocates poop themselves and go to competing pages. Users, who were not the intended audience of this feature, threw a fit because it failed to satisfy their privacy concerns. Internet Explorer, which is otherwise becoming a great browser, decided to break the standard by not providing the default, "user has not specified", value.
Of course, all this does is hands honest web developers a broken tool; immoral and arrogantly amoral sites will track anyway.
Mozilla Labs is currently investigating another solution. We could, potentially, at some point, see an addition to Firefox which distills all of the information honest websites would like to know into a summary which users could selectively share. This, much like DNT, will not prevent companies or other organizations from tracking you but rather give most legitimate situations a fittingly legitimate alternative.
All of this data, such as history and geolocation, is already stored by browsers as a result of how they operate. This concept allows users to release some of this information to the sites they visit and, ideally, satisfy both parties. Maybe then, those who actually are malicious, cannot shrug off their actions as a common industry requirement.
Subject: General Tech | May 2, 2013 - 02:01 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Privacy, eff, data privacy, consumer rights
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released its annual Who Has Your Back report, which highlights Internet companies that (do or do not) defend user’s online privacy rights. The EFF looks at the policies and actions of several major Internet companies, including ISPs, cloud storage, email, and social networks (among others). The companies are graded on various criteria such as whether the companies require a subpoena or warrant before releasing information, lobby congress for stricter data privacy laws, and defend their users’ privacy rights in court.
This year, the EFF found some surprising results. Google is no longer the leader of the pack due to no longer providing transparent data requests to users on the same level that it did in the past. Twitter and ISP Sonic.net are actually the top ranked companies. In a less surprising twist, Verizon is actually the worst company of the bunch along with MySpace with failing grades in each category! And that is just the tip of the spear, with companies like Apple and AT&T being worse than I thought and Foursquare and WordPress doing better than I expected.
Data privacy is of supreme importance, and i hope that these EFF reports prod all companies to do better (and note the companies that are doing right by their users). It is definitely worth a read. You can find the full report in PDF form here.
Do you use any of these services, and are you happy with their data privacy efforts?
Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2013 - 03:29 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: tracking cookie, Privacy, firefox 22, cookies
Mozilla’s Firefox web browser continues to add new features. A recent patch submitted by Jonathan Mayer proposes an interesting change to the way the browser handles third party cookies. The patch is suggested to be rolled into Firefox 22, and should it be approved, the open source browser would adopt Safari-like behavior by blocking third party cookies by default. Specifically, the patch would change the default behavior to block third party cookies by default unless the user has visited the website themselves at some point. Users will also be able to tweak the setting via a UI menu item and choose whether to always block third party cookies, only allow cookies from previously visited sites, or allow all third party cookies (for comparison, Google Chrome goes with this option as its default).
This is a positive move for consumer privacy, but it is also a disruptive strike at online advertisers. So called third party cookies are tidbits of code that sites can utilize to identify and track users on other sites. The uses of cookies can range from a shopping site using cookies for shopping carts or coupons to ad networks that track you across the internet to deliver targeted advertising and gather information about users. Safari has managed to get away with blocking third party cookies by default so far, but Firefox has a great deal more market share. Should Firefox move to a block-by-default model, advertisers are not likely to be pleased considering they think that Do Not Track is bad enough (heh). I think it may need to be relaxed somewhat, but the proposed patch’s behavior is closer to a fair balance between privacy and tracking than the current arrangement.
Currently, you can choose to accept all or block all (with accept all being the default). The new patch would add a new option to the GUI menu to only allow cookies from previously visited sites.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that changes to Firefox’s cookie handling behavior has been proposed. A few years ago, developers considered a similar patch but found that it caused too many problems with websites. It is worth noting that Jonathan Mayer's patch is not as strict in what it blocks as that previous patch attempt, so it is more likely to be approved--and break fewer sites out of the box. Then again, the more browsers that adopt a block-by-default policy for third party cookies, the more websites will be pressured into finding workarounds such as poxy-ing the third party ad cookies from their own domain (making the cookies first party as far as the browser is concerned). In the end, the battle between consumers and advertisers will rage on with websites/publishers caught in the middle tryng to find an acceptable balance.
It will be interesting to see whether this patch goes through and what the fallout (if any) will be.
What do you think about the proposed change to the default cookie handling setting? Are you already using a third party browser plugin with a white list to block them by default anyway?
Also Read: Firefox 19 Includes Built-In PDF Viewer @ PC Perspective.
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