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Google Will Add Opt-Out Button To Its Browser

By , THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm

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Amid swirling discussion on how tech companies handle privacy issues, Google on Thursday became the latest Internet giant to support adding a do-not-track button to its Web browser.

No time frame was set for changing the Chrome browser to include a do-not-track feature, which would prevent companies from using information gleaned from a user’s Web history to deliver tailored advertising. Companies that have adopted the standard also have agreed not to collect data for use in credit, employment, health care or insurance decisions.

“We’re pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls,” said Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, in a statement.

Google joins Mozilla, which added a do-not-track button to its Firefox browser last year, and Microsoft, which brought it to Internet Explorer a few months later. The next version of Apple’s operating system, called Mountain Lion, includes a do-not-track feature in the Safari browser released to developers this month. Mountain Lion is scheduled to go on sale this summer.

Google’s move came the same day the Obama administration called on lawmakers to create a “privacy bill of rights,” designed to give consumers more control over how their data is collected, stored and shared.

The privacy framework, which was developed over two years by the Federal Trade Commission and resulted in a 62-page document, sets forth privacy principles that regulators say companies should uphold. The goal is a policy that would ensure that consumers can control what data companies collect about them, understand how it can be used, and prevent companies from using it in ways they did not explicitly agree to.

“Even though we live in a world in which we share personal information more freely than in the past, we must reject the conclusion that privacy is an outmoded value,” President Obama said in a letter accompanying the report. “It has been at the heart of our democracy from its inception, and we need it now more than ever.”

Privacy advocates say that a do-not-track button, while a positive step, will not ensure Internet users’ privacy by itself. A separate effort by the advertising industry will allow people to opt out of being tracked by clicking a virtual off-switch within advertisements, but that project is not linked to the browser buttons.

For that reason, a person who opts out of sharing personal data using one method may still be tracked by other means – in a way that could be confusing.

“I would like to see us move to a place where it isn’t so burdensome for consumers, ” Julie Brill, an FTC commissioner who speaks frequently on privacy issues, said in a recent interview with The Chronicle.

The battle now moves to Congress, where lawmakers are expected to hold discussions about privacy legislation. Privacy advocates say they are concerned their voices will be drowned out by the large companies that depend on targeted advertising.

“The real question is how much influence companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook will have in their inevitable attempt to water down the rules that are implemented, and render them essentially meaningless,” said John Simpson, privacy policy director of Consumer Watchdog, in a statement.

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