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Posted at 7:14 AM ET, 11/17/2010

What a Do Not Track option might look like

By Cecilia Kang

How would a Do Not Track registry work? Not quite like the popular Do Not Call list its name implies, experts say.

The latter is a phone list that's off limits to telemarketers. The former would be a tool on Internet browsers that designed to block third-party companies from collecting information on the Web sites a user visits.

Upon reading a previous post about a planned House hearing on a Do Not Track option for consumers who don't want their information collected on the Web, Stanford University computer science researcher Jonathan Mayer noted the two are different.

"It employs a very different approach; the developing consensus is not around a list or registry," Mayer wrote in an e-mail. The Do Not Call list, managed by the Federal Trade Commission, is a registry of more than 200 million phone numbers that are hands-off to marketers.

Rather than entering their names on a centrally maintained list, Internet users who don't want advertisers and other firms to follow them on the Web, would use technology to block tracking -- specifically, a tool on their Web browsers., a collaboration by Stanford Universities offers one idea for how such a tool would work: Whenever an Internet browser requests content or sends data using HTTP, the protocol that underlies the Web, it can optionally include extra information, called a "header." Do Not Track simply would add a header indicating that the user does not want to be tracked.

"This mechanism mitigates the scalability, cost, and privacy issues inherent in a list," Mayer wrote.

Google and other firms have panned the idea of a Do Not Track mandate, saying the implementation of such a standard technology would be too difficult.

"At present a user cannot opt out of many of the hundreds of tracking services and advertising networks; those that do allow opting out each require setting (and not deleting!) an opt-out cookie," the Do Not Track Web site says. "Much like the popular Do Not Call registry, Do Not Track provides users with a single, persistent setting to opt out of web tracking."

By Cecilia Kang  | November 17, 2010; 7:14 AM ET
Categories:  Privacy  
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