Following on Microsoft’s recent announcement that “Do Not Track” features will be built into Internet Explorer 9, a Mozilla executive apparently has confirmed that something similar will be soon be included in Firefox as well.
Here are four reasons why Mozilla should also adopt a “Tracking Protection List” approach to consumer tracking preferences:
- It provides enforceable choices. By blocking all browser interactions with server domains blacklisted on a TPL, it gives the user real control over which tracking companies are allowed to interact with the browser. This is much more verifiable than an approach based on opt-out cookies or universal opt-out headers; with those, nothing is blocked by the browser, putting the burden of trust on the consumer.
- It enables decisions in context. Microsoft’s approach allows tracking preferences to be made on any web page. This means consumers will be able to find and act on tracking choices within the context of sites that provide privacy information, or as part of the revived notice-and-choice framework that is part of the tracking industry self-regulatory program.
- It is simple to use. Making a TPL choice looks like an easy, two-click process. With lists independently curated by organizations like ours, the consumer can make a high-level choice, such as “allow only tracking companies that provide profile visibility and are subject to oversight.” Because TPL’s are automatically updated every week by the curator, a consumer can truly “set and forget” their tracking preferences, even as individual tracking companies come and go.
- It provides a platform for value-exchange. TPL’s enable not only blocking but also white-listing of specific tracking domains. In this way, a framework can develop to connect user tracking preferences with the availability of free content and services.
Like any other approach, the TPL approach has downsides. You might view dependence on third-party curators as a disadvantage; what if third parties don’t develop and maintain them? And tracking companies may end up blocked even for non-behavioral purposes, unless they expressly segregate and identify their domain sets. These issues seem small compared to the prospect of consumer tracking choices that are simple, enforceable and context-driven.