Dude, stop tracking my browser

Posted by STARR KESHET

Wouldn't it be great if you could opt out of third-party web tracking and tell hyper-capitalist advertisers to stop stalking your every move online?

Fortunately, two talented Stanford researchers - Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan - are coding an app that could eventually allow you to do just that.

"People [definitely] get creeped out by some of the advertising that happens online. What concerns us is if you're on a site like Amazon and you go looking for shoes, then someone tells a behavioral advertising service that you've been looking for shoes," explained Mayer.

"So the next time you're off on another shopping site, they'll ask if you're still looking for shoes. [Yeah], it [really does] feel invasive."



So, how does the "Do Not Track" (DNT) program work?



Well, a web browser requesting content or sending data using the HTTP protocol is capable of (optionally) including extra information in the header.

The DNT app uses the header to output and store a line of code indicating that the user does not want to be tracked.


"We always thought Do Not Track was a great technical idea, and it has a real impact that's feasible.

"Now having the FTC say it's a good idea - you just can't ask for more than that on a research project," he added.

Do Not Track is currently available as a (beta) plug-in for Firefox. Future iterations of the software are expected to support Chrome, although Safari and IE remain incompatible with DNT.

However, it should be noted that successful implementation of the DNT app is completely dependent on major online advertising networks - which have, unsuprisingly, refused to honor Do Not Track requests. 

As such, the DNT plug-in - while technically functional - currently remains little more than wishful thinking.