As the privacy and tracking debate rages in the desktop arena, Mozilla has made a jump to the mobile world by announcing its new Boot to Gecko project, which will include an implementation of the Do Not Track technology on mobile devices. This is the first such implementation and it will give users the ability to tell mobile sites that they don’t want to be tracked persistently while using the Web from their phones.
Boot to Gecko is Mozilla’s effort to create an open and open-source operating system designed for the Web. It will be built on a Linux kernel and include a variety of new Web APIs that will expose a given device’s capabilities to applications. This effort is in direct contrast to the proprietary models of vendors such as Apple and Microsoft whose models rely on closed-source operating systems and app stores.
Do Not Track, a technology that allows users to inform sites they visit about their preference for being tracked and shown targeted ads, is supported by many of the major desktop browsers, including Firefox and Chrome. It is seen by privacy advocates and researchers as an important step in the process of giving users back some control of the way that their activities and behaviors are monitored and monetized on the Web.
Now, with the introduction of Boot to Gecko, Mozilla is bringing this capability to mobile devices.
“Do Not Track can be enabled by accessing the preferences panel from a device running on Boot to Gecko. Just like in Firefox and Firefox for Android, the user scrolls to Do Not Track and turns the setting on (see illustration above). From that point forward, the device broadcasts the “DNT:1″ header. Any Web sites visited by the user and all apps running on the device can see the header, including any third party services running on those sites or apps,” Alex Fowler, privacy and public policy lead for Mozilla, explained in a blog post.
“Our implementation in Boot to Gecko is intended to demo how the privacy feature can work with apps and encourage others to try similar implementations. As we saw with desktop with IE, Safari and soon Chrome and Opera, we hope other mobile OS providers will join our efforts on Do Not Track for mobile. We plan to begin working with app developers, too, to provide support for the privacy header.”
Mozilla already has done quite a bit of work on Boot to Gecko and has laid out a roadmap for specific features and functionality that need to be finished. The schedule tentatively calls for Boot to Gecko to be ready for productization by the end of the second quarter of this year.
Privacy advocates praised Mozilla’s inclusion of Do Not Track in the new OS, saying it could be a milestone for users and mobile developers.
“It’s an encouraging step by the Mozilla Foundation to insert open web standards and privacy protections among the walled gardens and proprietary-based OS software in the mobile environment,” Mark M. Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundationsaid in an analysis of the move. “EFF is excited about the evolution of Do Not Track onto the mobile platform. Right now, EFF and many other groups are involved in a multi-stakeholder process to define the scope and execution of Do Not Track through the Tracking Protection Working Group. Through this participatory forum, civil liberties organizations, advertisers, and leading technologists are working together to define how Do Not Track will give users a meaningful way to control online tracking without unduly burdening companies.”