It’s no coincidence that the ads that pop up every time you browse the net seem somehow suited to your interests. Ad companies pay a lot of money to track browsing habits and build individualized profiles so that they can individualize ads for each user. It’s great for them—individualized ads that reflect a user’s interests means you’re more likely to click. But it’s bad for you.
Do you really want some anonymous suits in a Madison Avenue office keeping track of your personal interests, or worse, your personal peccadilloes?
The FTC has been tackling the problem in its own, non-committal way, suggesting that browsers provide an opt-out option, such as “Do not track!” Google and Mozilla are rising to the challenge. The companies’ two popular browsers, Chrome and Firefox, respectively, are developing a “Do not track” function.
Chrome’s function is already in operation, allowing users to decline tracking from ad networks that already allow people to decline personalized advertisements. While some smaller ad networks do not, Google points out that the top 15 networks do. Mozilla is also working on a “Do not track” tool, but the company has not announced when it will be released. According to Alex Fowler¸ a privacy officer with Mozilla, the tool is just the first step the company is taking to protect users’ privacy.
Firefox and Chrome account for about 32 percent of Internet users. The most popular browser by far is still Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Though it has shown a marked decline, IE accounted for about 58 percent of the market share as of Q4 2010. Microsoft’s developers are also working on a privacy feature, though it differs sharply from the other two companies’ “Do not track” tool. Explorer users will have to build their own list of sites that they want to block.