The Federal Trade Commission is cheering Mozilla's plans for a new feature that will allow Firefox users to automatically transmit a do-not-track request to the Web sites they visit. But whether ad networks and online marketers will follow those preferences is far from clear.
Mozilla said on Sunday that it will roll out a do-not-track header that will automatically tell all Web sites when users want to avoid online tracking for ad-serving purposes. The ad networks and other sites would then no longer need to rely on cookies -- which many users delete -- to know whether the users want to opt out of online tracking. But the system is voluntary, meaning it will only work if the Web companies that use tracking data agreed to honor the headers.
The FTC used its Twitter feed to praise the initiative, saying it was "pleased that entities like Mozilla recognize that consumers want a choice in online tracking and are taking steps to give it to them."
In a recent report, the FTC called on Web companies to voluntarily develop a mechanism to allow consumers to opt out of all online tracking.
Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the industry-funded think tank Future of Privacy Forum, says that Mozilla's new feature "meshes with what the self-regulatory groups are proposing."
Honoring the request "should be a no-brainer," he says, adding that most ad networks have already agreed to allow users to opt out of behavioral advertising.
But the Interactive Advertising Bureau's response was lukewarm. "It's very simplistic to think that you just put something in a header and people will honor it," general counsel Mike Zaneis says. He adds that it isn't clear whether Mozilla's definition of online tracking for ad purposes aligns with that of self-regulatory groups. "It's an interesting idea that they can offer this header, but if nobody's reading it, and nobody knows what it means, why should we care as an industry?"
Zaneis adds that the IAB is focusing on building out a self-regulatory system that requires companies to honor do-not-track cookies, but not other mechanisms like browser headers. The Digital Advertising Alliance (which includes the IAB as well as the other major ad groups) now has around 100 members who have agreed to honor a cookie that allows users to opt out of behavioral advertising.
Separately, Google on Monday also said it is offering new tools that allow users who delete their cookies to still opt out of online ads. The feature, a Keep My Opt-Outs extension for Google's Chrome browser, will allow users to permanently opt out of online tracking and ad targeting by companies that participate in the industry's self-regulatory program. Google also says it aims to make the feature available for browsers other than Chrome.