Google released its newest version of Chrome today and, as promised, the browser comes equipped with a do-not-track option that users can activate.
Users who want to turn on the feature must go to the advanced settings section and check a box next to the statement, "Send a 'Do Not Track' request with your browsing traffic."
With the move, all the major browser companies now offer users a relatively simple way to say they want to opt out of online tracking. Whether ad networks will listen remains to be seen.
The do-not-track request doesn't prevent ad networks from collecting data about Web users or sending them ads. Instead, it only signals that users don't want to be "tracked" -- a concept that means different things to privacy advocates and ad networks.
In general, the online ad industry generally says that companies should stop targeting ads based on Web-surfing history when people say they don't want to be tracked. At the same time, online ad companies say they would still like to be able to collect analytics information from users who activate a do-not-track signal.
But privacy advocates, as well as many consumers, say ad networks should stop gathering data about people's Web surfing activity if they have turned on do-not-track.
Until this conflict gets resolved, there's little hope that a browser-based do-not-track header will mean much -- no matter how many browser developers make one available.
At this point, it's been five years since privacy advocates first proposed that the ad industry should figure out a simple way to allow users to opt out of online behavioral targeting. The Federal Trade Commission endorsed the concept in its 2010 privacy report.
Since then, the FTC has praised browser developers for creating do-not-track headers. But in the last six months, it's become increasingly obvious that the initiative has stalled.
Given the standstill, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz reportedly is making noises about new legislation. "If by the end of the year or early next year, we haven’t seen a real Do Not Track option for consumers, I suspect the commission will go back and think about whether we want to endorse legislation,” Leibowitz reportedly told Politico.