Nearly two years after other browser vendors implemented it, Google on Tuesday finally released a version of Chrome that supports the Do Not Track functionality that helps users prevent Web sites from following their movements around the Web. Google’s move to include the technology is a response to discussions with the White House earlier this year around privacy.
Chrome 23, released on Tuesday, is the first stable version of the company’s browser to include the DNT option, although it’s been in the developer channel for a couple of months now. The DNT system works in the background and sends a signal to Web sites, via a header, that the user does not want to be tracked with persistent cookies. Mozilla implemented the Do Not Track technology in Firefox in June 2011 when it released Firefox 5 and Microsoft has it in Internet Explorer, as well. Microsoft drew some criticism recently for its decision to enable Do Not Track by default in IE 10.
The DNT option is disabled by default in Chrome and in order to turn it on, users need to go to the customization menu in the top right corner of the browser window. Then click on the Settings option in the left side and scroll down to open the Advanced Settings menu. Under the Privacy menu, check the box next to the “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request with your browsing traffic” option. Once that option is enabled, the user will see a message explaining what the DNT system will do for them.
“Enabling ‘Do Not Track’ means that a request will be included with your browsing traffic. Any effect depends on whether a website responds to the request, and how the request is interpreted. For example, some websites may respond to this request by showing you ads that aren’t based on other websites you’ve visited. Many websites will still collect and use your browsing data – for example to improve security, to provide content, services, ads and recommendations on their websites, and to generate reporting statistics,” the message says.
As the Chrome message explains briefly, Do Not Track is not a panacea for tracking and privacy problems online, but more of a first line of defense against advertisers and third-party networks that collect and sell data on users’ behavior. Although many in the privacy community have advocated the implementation of Do Not Track for some time, others have criticized it as an ineffective defense against the massive tracking machine.
In fact, after Microsoft announced that it was enabling DNT by default in IE 10, a co-founder of the Apache Web server project committed a patch that ignores that setting in the browser. The argument against enabling it by default is that it takes the choice out of the user’s hands, which critics say is no different than not having the technology at all.
“The only reason DNT exists is to express a non-default option. That’s all it does,” Roy T. Fielding wrote on Github. “It does not protect anyone’s privacy unless the recipients believe it was set by a real human being, with a real preference for privacy over personalization.”