Stanford Cookie Clearinghouse Aims to Give Users More Say Over Online Tracking

By Cameron Scott 

privacy, do not track, social networks, social media, social widgetsStanford University’s Center for Internet and Society dove into the nitty-gritty of online privacy today, announcing a Cookie Clearinghouse that will maintain “allow” and “block” lists to help refine which websites should be allowed to set cookies in a user’s browser.

“Internet users are starting to understand that their online activities are closely monitored, often by companies they have never heard of before. But Internet users currently don’t have the tools they need to make online privacy choices,” said Aleecia McDonald, CIS’s director of privacy.

Opera and Mozilla will work with the CIS to create the list, which will likely be released as a draft in the fall.

In February, Mozilla began using in pre-release versions of Firefox a patch developed by a CIS researcher that would block cookies from sites a user hadn’t previously visited and allow cookies from those s/he had. The Cookie Clearinghouse aims to address two “edge cases” in which such an approach doesn’t work: first, sites with a different domain that work with and belong to the same organization or company as a site the user has visited, and, second, sites that have farther reach than users might expect, likely through social widgets.

The list would identify sites that have these sorts of relationships to one another, triggering the appropriate cookie behavior depending on which sites a browser user has visited or allowed to set cookies. Software companies will choose whether or not to integrate the lists.

Owners of websites with cookies that have been included on the block list will also be able to respond to the Clearinghouse.

It’s not clear how the lists will interact with the Do Not Track standard the W3C is expected to devise.