FAQ: What Google's 'Do Not Track' move means

Google will add support for anti-tracking tech to Chrome browser before year's end

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What about mobile browsers? Do they support Do Not Track? Firefox for Android does. Safari on iOS and Chrome for Android do not, although Apple and Google will presumably add support in future versions to match their desktop browsers.

IE9 on Windows Phone 7 also lacks support for Do Not Track, Microsoft confirmed today. But a spokeswoman left open the door to an appearance. "Well continue adding features and functions in future versions as IE9 mobile shares its code base with the desktop version," the spokeswoman said.

So, when I tell my browser to send the Do Not Track request, no one will monitor my movements? Hold on there, pardner. Thursday's commitment by Google to support Do Not Track in Chrome may have been a clear win for the specific way that request is communicated, but there's no such clarity on what websites do -- or don't do -- when they receive that signal.

"On the technology side, this is an unambiguous win, but on the policy side there is still a lot of work to be done," Mayer said yesterday.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an online privacy advocacy organization, said much the same. "While today was a great advancement on the Do Not Track technology, it did not meaningfully move the ball forward on the Do Not Track policy," said Rainey Reitman, the EFF's activism director, in a Thursday blog.

What have sites agreed to do with Do Not Track? They'll stop using cookies to craft targeted ads, the kind pointed at you based on your past surfing and other online behavior.

But the companies that lined up Thursday to support Do Not Track -- the ad networks, websites and corporations who belong to the latest online ad industry trade group, the Digital Advertising Association (DAA) -- haven't promised to actually stop tracking users' Web movements. Instead, they've pledged to not use tracking data to serve targeted ads -- which the DAA calls "behavioral advertising" -- or use that tracking information "for the purpose of any adverse determination concerning employment, credit, health treatment or insurance eligibility, as well as specific protections for sensitive data concerning children."

(IDG, the parent company of Computerworld, is a member of DAA, according to the association's list of participating companies and ad networks. Other media firms that will hew to the DAA's behavioral ad guidelines around Do No Track include Conde Nast, ESPN, Forbes and Time.)

What? So Do Not Track doesn't mean just that? Right, which is why privacy groups are pushing for a stricter interpretation. The EFF, for one, is leery of the advertising industry's sincerity.

"Historically, the DAA has eschewed providing users with powerful mechanisms for choices when it comes to online tracking," said EFF's Reitman. "The self-regulatory standards for behavioral advertising have offered consumers a way to opt out of viewing behaviorally targeted ads without actually stopping the online tracking, which is the root of the privacy concern."

Reitman worried that the DAA would mess with the simplicity of Do Not Track, and try to turn it into "slippery legalese that doesn't promise to do much of anything about tracking."

Ouch.

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