BROWSER DEVELOPER Mozilla has published a first draft of proposals that will allow Firefox users to opt-out of sending personalised HTTP headers to advertisers.
Firefox's Do Not Track (DNT) system is still far from production ready, however the ideas proposed will allow the user to flick a switch and anonymise the HTTP headers sent to advertising networks.
Before the clutch of people who support Rupert Murdoch's model of paywalling the Internet cite this as a justification for building gigantic fortresses of content, the anonymising of HTTP headers isn't designed to stop advertising completely. Fowler says Mozilla's system would allow adverts to be displayed, just not ones that are targeted to the user by analysing their browsing habits.
The problem with such a scheme is that it requires both browser and website developers to implement the software in order to work. Mozilla is hoping that by announcing its DNT system to the public at an early stage it can build support from both users and developers that will translate into websites being programmed to take advantage of the software.
If anything, this is likely to make the data mining operations conducted by search engines and social networks even more valuable. Given that the US Federal Trade Commission has asked for a mechanism to allow users to opt-out of behavioural advertising, it is likely that the approach of anonymising HTTP headers will grow in popularity whether or not it is implemented directly in web browsers.
Mozilla's Sid Stamm has commented that DNT is just "one piece in the data choice and control puzzle", adding that improved transparency in data collection and sharing practices is required. Stamm is indeed correct, as users might be willing to receive targeted adverts if they know what data is being collected and who can view it.
Stamm added that Mozilla is working on other mechanisms to improve users' control over behavioural advertising.
Such software, if implemented, is likely to ensure that online advertising remains a viable method of generating cash for websites. Although many web users might not care that advertisers are tracking their browsing habits now, it is likely that as web users mature in awareness, the importance of privacy will grow.
As users become more aware and wary of the corporate machines that are used to generate web advertising, transparency and the ability to opt-out of behavioural advertising will be needed if companies want to keep users from installing even more aggressive ad-blocking software.
At this point Mozilla's DNT proposals should serve as a starting point for frank discussions between the developers of web browsers and websites and those companies that advertise online. µ
'Some of us like the misery'
That'll surely affect its credit score