Want to tell Website advertisers to get off your back? The government (FTC) is interested in how you feel about being targeted and tracked when you surf the Web. Some of the major browsers already give you a no tracking option and others are working to follow suit. It’s not hard to set them up to cover your tracks if you think your privacy is in jeopardy.
In addition to malevolent trackers, legitimate advertisers use tracking cookies and other devices to follow user clicks and monitor usage of particular Websites. That info is stored and used to perhaps influence your future Web behavior and purchases. The FTC is endorsing implementation of a “Do-Not-Track” mechanism that would encourage online sellers and also Web browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox to allow users to opt out of tracking devices. This could be similar to the partly effective Do-Not-Call list that we already have for annoying telemarketing callers.
Based on their latest versions, here is the way Do-Not-Track works with some popular browsers. In Firefox 3.6 or newer: Go to Tools|Options|Privacy and uncheck “Accept third-party cookies”. You may also want to install the add-ons “Ghostery” and “Better Privacy.” Ghostery detects and blocks tracking cookies. Better Privacy does the same for Macromedia flash cookies. To find these add-ons, go to Tools| Add-ons|Browse all add-ons |Search for. By the way at the time of this writing, Ghostery is being downloaded about 18,000 times per week and Better Privacy about 43,000.
Internet Explorer’s Version 8.0 built in cookie controls are not as versatile as Firefox’s, but they have announced improvements for Version 9.0. I do not however recommend the average user install version 9.0 while it is still in beta. Wait until it’s fully tested and offered as a regular Microsoft Windows monthly update. With Internet Explorer 8.0, for now the best solution may be to use the third party add-on” No More Cookie” which is available at: ieaddons.com. This little gem gives you a list of cookies recently downloaded on your PC and allows you to choose which to allow. It may be interesting to install this add-on just to see who is dropping cookies on your PC.
To access the cookie-control options in Google Chrome, click the wrench icon in the top-right corner of the browser window and choose Options| Under the Hood| Content Settings| Cookies. Google Chrome’s privacy settings let you block all or some site content and delete all such content, including tracking cookies, whenever you close the browser.
Currently control of tracking on personal PCs seems to be mostly in the users hands with tools that are provided by Web browsers as suggested by the FTC. I don’t know about you, but that seems a more efficient solution than invoking the help of the US Congress as some have suggested.