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Privacy: Users aren't turning on Do Not Track browser features

Consumer Reports News: May 24, 2011 03:28 PM

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Last year, the Federal Trade Commission suggested that consumers needed a way to tell online advertisers to bug off and not to follow their every online move. And Microsoft and Mozilla built Do Not Track tools into Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4, respectively. The problem? Very few online surfers are using those privacy features.

At a recent privacy conference, Alex Fowler, Mozilla's Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader, said only 1 to 2 percent of folks are using the new Do Not Track feature in Firefox 4. Part of the reason may be that the feature is difficult find within Firefox's setup options. Future versions of the Firefox browser—including the new Firefox 5 for smart phones just entering public beta testing now—will have the Do Not Track function "much more prominently displayed," Fowler said at the conference.

Making privacy protection tools easier to see and use could be a good step toward wider adoption among consumers. In Consumer Reports' latest State of the Net survey, we found that one in five of respondents who are active on Facebook aren't using the social network's revamped privacy tools. Nearly two-thirds of those users don't even know the privacy tools exist.

Increased attention from federal lawmakers and regulators will help raise awareness of online privacy tools and issues as well.

On the heels of last month's Epsilon e-mail fiasco, Senators John Kerry and John McCain introduced an online privacy bill that in part mandates a “clear and conspicuous” way for consumers to opt out of being tracked by third-party marketers.

What do you think? Are you aware of your browser's built-in do-not-follow tools? Have you used them or any other software designed to block online advertisers?

Do-not-track off to a slow start, Mozilla adds support for Android [Sophos Blog]
Self-Regulation for Online Ads Moving Slowly [Wall Street Journal]
Firefox beta for Android adds a no tracking option [UK Inquirer]

Paul Eng

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