All posts tagged ‘privacy’

File Under: Browsers, Identity, Security

Chrome Add-on Kills Tracking Cookies

Not to be outdone by Mozilla, Google has released a new add-on for its Chrome web browser that allows users to opt-out of online advertising tracking. While Mozilla’s privacy tool is still just a proposal, and involves a new HTTP header, Google’s add-on uses the more practical, cookie-based approach and works today.

The Keep My Opt-Outs add-on works like a very persistant cookie, but this one is working in your favor. The add-on uses Chrome’s internal cookie APIs to set the opt-out flag for each advertising network that participates in the opt-out program created by the ad industry. Not only is it easier than setting those cookies yourself, the add-on ensures that, even if you clear the rest of your cookies, the opt-out cookies remain intact.

While it works, Google’s approach is something of a hack. The add-on intercepts and rewrites cookies, which is not exactly an ideal solution. Still, if you’re a Chrome user and you’ve been looking for a way to stop advertising cookies today, the Keep My Opt-Outs add-on has you covered.

Keep My Opt-Outs also makes a viable alternative to ad-blockers, particularly for those concerned that ad-blocking add-ons are denying their favorite sites much needed revenue. Provided you don’t mind a few advertisements here and there, using the new add-on in conjunction with some smart cookie settings, you can support your favorite sites without forfeiting your privacy. And for those that do use ad blockers, keep in mind that just because the ad is not shown, doesn’t always mean it can’t set cookies.

In the long term, Mozilla’s header-based approach to stopping cookie-based tracking is a better solution, and we expect, if the idea catches on, Chrome and other browsers will support it as well. For those who want something that works today, Google’s new add-on fits the bill.

Footprints photo by Vinoth Chandar/Flickr/CC

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File Under: Browsers, Identity, Security

Mozilla Plans ‘Do-Not-Track’ Privacy Tools for Firefox

Mozilla wants to create a new HTTP header that will allow Firefox and other browsers to shut off web tracking tools like cookies. The new header would offer a universal way to tell websites that a user wishes to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking.

Behavioral advertising, as such tracking is known, is becoming increasingly common on the web. Advertisers use cookies to follow you around the web, tracking which sites you visit, what you buy and even, in the case of mobile browsers, where you go. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has already outlined a Do Not Track mechanism (PDF link), which would work much like the FTC’s Do Not Call list, offering a way to opt-out of online tracking.

The proposed do-not-track HTTP header is one of several ways Mozilla plans to implement the FTC’s suggestions. While the header idea has been around for a while — the Do Not Track Firefox add-on from the Stanford Law School is one example — currently most online opt-out schemes use cookies to set user preferences. Mozilla believes “the header-based approach has the potential to be better for the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out mechanism than cookies or blacklists.”

While the new header is just a proposal at the moment, Mozilla already has some code ready and is considering adding the feature to future versions of Firefox. The current plan is to create a new preferences option that would allow you to opt-out from tracking. Check the box in the preferences and Firefox will start sending the do-not-track header each time you request a new page.

Interestingly, the header Mozilla proposes is not the same as the “X-Do-Not-Track” proposal, which is already implemented in Firefox add-ons NoScript and Adblock Plus. For more details on how Mozilla’s new HTTP header will work, see Mozilla developer Sid Stamm’s blog post.

Like Mozilla’s proposed privacy icons, the problem with the new header is getting third-party ad sites to obey it. Mozilla calls it a “chicken and egg” problem and hopes to jumpstart the idea by including the header in future releases of Firefox. At that point it would be up to third party websites to support the header and, as Mozilla puts it, “honor people’s privacy choices.”

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File Under: Browsers, Multimedia, Security

Adobe Working on an Easier Way to Delete ‘Flash Cookies’

When it comes to erasing your tracks on the web, nothing is more pernicious and difficult to delete than the Flash-based cookie. Technically known as “local shared objects,” Flash cookies don’t go away when you clear your browser-based cookies. Instead they hang around, potentially collecting data without your knowledge or consent.

To delete Flash cookies you have to navigate through the Flash Player settings dialog. Unfortunately most users don’t know how to do that and Adobe has, until now, put very little effort into simplifying the process (it has at least made Flash respect the “private browsing” mode in modern browsers).

Now Adobe is finally taking some steps toward simplifying the process of deleting Flash cookies. The company has announced it is working on a new API that will allow your browser to delete Flash cookies along with the rest of your cookies. For now only Mozilla and Google are working on the API with Adobe, but presumably Adobe is talking to Microsoft and Apple as well.

While there’s no shipping code at this point, if the API were to make it into Firefox and Chrome it would give users an easy-to-find menu for quickly clearly Flash cookies. Adobe’s blog post says users can expect to see the changes “in the first half of the year.”

The move would no doubt by a small boon to privacy, but as Ars Technica points out, Flash cookies aren’t the only source of hard-to-defeat, persistant online tracking. For instance, the dreaded “evercookie” stores data in no less than 13 places and is nearly impossible for the average user to delete.

Still, for those annoyed at the complexities of deleting Flash cookies, things may soon, thankfully, get a bit simpler.

Miniature Food photo by Stéphanie Kilgast/Flickr/CC

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Will New Facebook Share My Searches?

With the bad publicity Facebook has received in the past over privacy concerns, keeping user data safe is likely at the top of the company’s priority list. The latest design brings the possibility for users to accidentally expose their searches as status messages.

Here is a the top left of the old and new designs of the Facebook home page:

Facebook designs: old and new

Notice anything? The box in the upper left used to be a search, but now it’s the status box. The two are virtually in the same place, yet have very different functions. Old habits die hard. In the last month, whenever I’ve gone to search, my eye and my mouse immediately go to the text input in the upper left. I’ve nearly publicized my search several times.

Yes, it’s a user error, but it’s also a user experience error. No, I haven’t made the mistake yet, nor have any of my friends, but I bet it’s happened. It won’t matter in the long run, as new users will only know the new Facebook, and longtime users will get used to the change. But it’s something to consider in your own radical redesigns. Don’t set users up for failure with your design changes.

Facebook just reached its 100 millionth user this week. Venture Beat notes that 20% of FB users have switched to the new design. That could be a lot of embarrassed users, hoping to find Miley Cyrus’ profile.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Faint Whispers of Controversy Surround Firefox RC

Firefox checkbox

The new Firefox shows a checkbox — checked by default — when you install it, asking if you want to make it your default browser. This checkbox previously appeared only when you launched the browser, not when you installed it.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes calls this “sneaky“, and discussion rages. Web consensus seems to be split between “any fool can uncheck a checkbox” and “Firefox becoming everyone’s default browser would be a fine thing.”

Elsewhere, the Register is alarmed about a Mozilla project to gather “anonymised data on a voluntary basis”.

Mozilla’s Mike Beltzner attempts to dispel the kerfuffle.

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