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'Do Not Track' standard edges towards daylight

First draft of spybuster deal released by W3C

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An internet standard on online privacy is expected to be published by the middle of next year. In the meantime, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has released a first draft of the so-called "Do Not Track" (DNT) mechanism, with input from the major browser makers.

Google, Mozilla, Apple and Microsoft have been debating with privacy groups and government regulators over what standard should be adopted.

But getting companies to find a consensus on what mechanism should be introduced that allows browser makers, social networks and other online outfits to profit from advertising while satisfying privacy watchdogs has proved, to say the least, problematic.

Add to that the fact that the three biggest browser players on the market today - Mozilla, Microsoft and Google - have all offered their own take on Do Not Track.

As The Register has reported previously, Mozilla added a DNT http header to Firefox, thereby giving surfers control of whether or not they want to be tracked by advertisers online.

Google, meanwhile, released a Chrome extension that lets a user opt-out of tracking cookies from multiple ad networks, including the web's top 15.

Then there's Microsoft's approach. It brought out a method dubbed Tracking Protection Lists, that relies on predefined lists of domains known to track a web surfer's behavior via advertising technologies.

Such lists are maintained by various third-party companies, and the user is free to choose from among them.

That method was already submitted to the W3C by Redmond in late 2010, following the release of its browser Internet Explorer 9. In February, the software vendor then rather sneakily added a submission of Mozilla's Do Not Track browser header to its Tracking Protection proposal to the W3C.

In September, the standards-setting group confirmed that Microsoft and Mozilla's proposals would provide the basis for the group's work.

Now, a first draft compliance specification has been published, which was edited by Google policy wonk Heather West, fellow Googler Sean Harvey and two members of the Center of Democracy and Technology.

Clearly, at this stage all the obvious parties are mucking in. But it's early days, and ultimately the browser industry is moving towards self-regulation that appeases privacy watchdogs and keeps ad revenues ticking over. The likely outcome, therefore, is that netizens will need to pro-actively switch the Do Not Track button on. ®

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