Firefox 4 Launches With 'Do Not Track' Option

By Katie Kindelan Comment

Mozilla, the maker of the world’s most popular Internet browser, has released the latest version of its Firefox 4 Beta browser, including the much-promised “Do Not Track” feature designed to protect consumers against targeted advertising and amidst strong privacy concerns.

The privacy feature, first reported in December of last year, allows users to opt out of the online tracking conducted by Web sites and advertisers. When users enable the feature in Firefox 4 Beta 11, the browser transmits special information with every HTTP page request, telling the site that the user does not want to be tracked.

More than 60 percent of Americans disapprove of how advertising companies track their online behavior, but most also remain unclear on how, or even if, a “Do Not Track” mechanism would work.

Mozilla, through its flagship product, Firefox, appears ready to change that. The headline “Opt Out of Ad Tracking” is the headline of the company’s upgrade page, while the “Do Not Track” feature is trumpeted prominently, in large font, as the top item on the “What’s New in Firefox 4” page.

“With the integration of the ‘Do Not Track’ option into Firefox 4 Beta, you can now check a ‘Do Not Track’ box in the ‘Advanced’ screen of Firefox’s Options,” Mozilla said in a blog post. “When this option is selected, a header will be sent signaling to websites that you wish to opt-out of online behavioral tracking.”

However, as the company made clear, the new tool won’t work until sites and advertisers modify code on their end to respond to the ‘Do Not Track’ request.

“You will not notice any difference in your browsing experience until sites and advertisers start responding to the header,” Mozilla said.

Mozilla privacy chief Sid Stamm wrote on his personal blog that the company will continue to work on additional features to protect user privacy even when a Do Not Track request is not honored.

The new Firefox also corrects a privacy loophole known as “history sniffing” that allowed advertisers to compile lists of what Web sites users had visited through the feature in web browsers that colors visited links differently than unvisited ones.

The privacy efforts from Mozilla come on the heels of calls from both consumer rights groups and the Federal Trade Commission for an online do-not-track registry similar to the “Do Not Call” list that currently exists for telemarketers.

Under that glare, the makers of Firefox’s competitor browsers have also announced changes.

Microsoft, for one, has announced that its next-generation Web browser will include a privacy feature called Tracking Protection, to give users control over which sites can send and receive data from their browser. Google, among other features, also recently announced a Chrome extension called Keep My Opt-Outs, which empowers users to permanently opt out of ad-tracking cookies.