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FTC calls out Google's Chrome over Do Not Track

Gregg Keizer | April 20, 2011
FTC Chairman Jon Liebowitz this week singled out Google for not adopting "Do Not Track".

On Tuesday, Google also declined to comment on Liebowitz's calling Google the Do Not Track holdout.

The company may face a decision sooner than later, said Jonathan Mayer, a student fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society (CIS). Mayer is one of three researchers who crafted the newest iteration of the Do Not Track technology.

"When Apple follows, they're going to check Do Not Track into WebKit, and then Google will face a choice," said Mayer, talking about the open-source browser engine that powers both Safari and Chrome. "Are they going to expose the feature or not?"

If Google decides to disable WebKit's Do Not Track feature when it builds Chrome, the company would repeat the mistake made by the once-dominant Netscape, which nine years ago first offered pop-up ad blocking, then removed it.

Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's director of community development, made the same observation earlier this week when in a post to his personal blog he argued that Chrome's lack of Do Not Track support meant the "team is bowing to pressure from Google's advertising business and that's a real shame."

Mayer didn't hesitate to call out Google.

"I think it borders on deceptive," Mayer said of Chrome's plug-in. "It's not opt-out for privacy, it's opt-out of tracking ads. They're saying, 'We won't show you the ads, but we'll still collect the data.'"

Google will likely bow to the building pressure and support Do Not Track, predicted Mayer. But he understands the company's current position, even though he doesn't agree with it.

"Google is in a particular awkward spot," Mayer said. "Microsoft could sort of get away with supporting Do Not Track without saying what it means to its advertising business, but Google is a different story. They have to have a pretty good idea what [Do Not Track] means for the company."

The bulk of Google's revenue comes from its online advertising business, which could be affected by Do Not Track.

"I hope they have a plan, because the pressure's mounting," said Mayer. "It's not clear what the internal decision-making process is. Some inside Google think it's a good idea, other thing it's a bad idea. [Do Not Track] is getting a lot of attention within Google, but it's not clear who has the authority today to say, 'Here's our policy.' They haven't spoken with one voice."

The picture may be clearer after the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the primary standards body for the Web, meets at Princeton University to discuss Do Not Track.

"There we might get a better sense of whether they're ready to proceed with Do Not Track," said Mayer of the April 28-29 W3C workshop .

In preparation for the event, seven Google employees have authored a position paper ( download PDF ) on Do Not Track.

 

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