TrackerBlock: Simple, Effective, Transparent

November 5, 2010

This week we released TrackerBlock for Firefox, which is the easiest and most effective tool to control online tracking. For the first time, users have complete visibility and control over the tracking company universe, including detailed policy and oversight information hundreds of companies.

TrackerBlock also is the only privacy tool that supports the emerging self-regulatory framework for behavioral advertising. Users can choose between blocking all tracking companies or only those not committed to industry best practices and compliance reviews.

Moving Beyond Opt-Outs for Add-ons

TrackerBlock represents a big shift in approach from our first Firefox addon, which served to make opt-out cookies permanent in your browser. With TrackerBlock, users don’t have to rely on ad firms to respect their cookie preferences, or worry about keeping opt-out cookies in place. Instead, the add-on prevents companies from reading cookies by stripping cookie information out of headers that are sent by the browser to the ad server. It also blocks companies from writing new cookies. For all blocked companies, TrackerBlock removes Flash cookies from those domains at the end of each browsing session. (Once Firefox 4.0 is out, we will also provide removal of other local stored objects, such as html5.)

I couldn’t escape this conclusion: If you’re going to offer an add-on to control tracking, the user deserves the best possible assurance that their preferences will be honored. Opt-out cookies shift a burden of trust and verification to the consumer. Unfortunately, many ad companies continue to retain tracking ID’s on opted-out computers, because their tracking cookies are stored separately from their opt-out cookies (see prior post). The computer’s unique identifier continues to be transmitted with every ad.

Simple, Effective and Transparent

Click to Enlarge

Two important things about the TrackerBlock interface:

1. Consumers can customize as much as they want, but they also can have a few simple choices that are immediately effective.

2. As part of the interface, consumers for the first time can see a comprehensive set of tracking company information for hundreds of companies. For each company, we’re providing a summary of their policies in four different key categories (Anonymity, Sharing, Boundaries and Deletion), with indicators of those policies that, in our view, deserve more attention.

We did our best to avoid any compromise between completeness of information and ease of use. Now it’s up to users to tell us whether we’ve succeeded.

What’s Next?

We’re at work on improvements to the PrivacyChoice Bookmark (still a good idea for users on other browsers or who won’t use an add-on), and we’re testing a form of TrackerBlock for Internet Explorer, so stay tuned.

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