Could a Do-Not-Track Tool on Firefox Protect Your Privacy?

By Katie Kindelan Comment

The good news for Internet users concerned about their privacy online? Mozilla is reportedly exploring putting anti-tracking features on its popular Firefox browser so that users can keep their online activities from being monitored. The bad news? Mozilla recently rejected a more powerful privacy protection tool under pressure from the advertising industry. Can capitalism and online privacy co-exist?

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the Mountain View, Calif.-based Mozilla was exploring options to give users the option of a do-not-track tool that would allow them to opt-out of having their data collected by advertising companies.

Mozilla was certainly happy to have that story out as an increasingly brighter spotlight is placed on users’ concerns that their privacy is at risk for the sake of advertisers who want to target their ads to the most receptive audience.

Consumer rights groups have called for a do-not-track registry similar to the “Do Not Call” list that currently exists for marketers, and a U.S. House subcommittee will hold a hearing this week on the topic. Further ahead, the Federal Trade Commission is expected to promote a similar tool in its much-anticipated online privacy report.

But whom Mozilla listened to a few months ago, the Journal reports, was instead an ad-industry executive with a significant stake in the process.

When news trickled out that a tool that would allow cookies to expire on a users’ Web browser, ad executive Simon Simeonov stepped in with concerns “that the change would prompt advertisers to “go underground” to conduct even more surreptitious forms of tracking.” Mozilla concurred and the tool was out.

Simeonov is the co-founder of Better Advertising, the company that owns the privacy icon the advertising industry introduced this year to allow users an opt-out option.

Also included in the Journal’s reporting is the reality that, “In its most recent financial statements, Mozilla disclosed about $86 million of its $104 million in 2009 revenue came from an advertising agreement with Google.”

Thus the dilemma of Web browsers caught in the crossfire between their audience, Internet users and regulators seeking to protect user privacy, and their revenue, online advertisers who want more information on users’ preferences.

Mozilla contends the tool was scrapped out of concerns it would drive advertisers to use “even sneaker techniques” and could potentially downgrade Firefox performance on some sites.

Tell us what you think. Would you utilize an online privacy tool? Will you ever have that option?