Privacy expert adds "Do Not Track" to Google Chrome

Extension to stop ad networks tracking browsers

Stewart Mitchell
13 Jan 2012

A privacy expert at Stanford University has released a Do Not Track extension for Google's Chrome browser, which could help end-users avoid being followed by some behavioural advertising companies.

The Do Not Track header is a technology and policy programme designed to allow consumers to opt out of tracking used by targeted advertising networks, but until now there had been no way of adding the feature to Chrome.

“The Chrome extension I developed adds the Do Not Track header (DNT: 1) to HTTP requests,” privacy specialist Jonathan Mayer told PC Pro. “All the other major browsers have had a Do Not Track option for quite some time - this extension allows Chrome users to finally take advantage of Do Not Track.”

Although Google does include privacy options that retain opt-out cookies when a user deletes general browsing cookies, it has come under fire from privacy advocates for not implementing Do Not Track, even though the technology remains in its early stages.

Google's position has been heavily criticised by advocates, academics, and policy makers

“Google has steadfastly refused to add the feature to Chrome,” Mayer said. “Google's position has been heavily criticised by advocates, academics, and policy makers - including the FTC.”

Mayer was able to complete the tool after Google released a non-experimental version of the Chrome WebRequest API, which allows extensions to do much more to protect user security and privacy.

The scheme still has its shortcomings, however, and one of the criticisms is that advertisers are not legally required to take any notice of the presence of a Do Not Track header, which means unscrupulous websites could ignore privacy requests.

“Do Not Track is a preference-signalling mechanism, so yes, websites have to add support for it," Mayer said, adding that additional tools could be used to keep tracking companies honest.

“There was some early criticism of Do Not Track for being unenforceable, but that line has largely faded, partly because researchers have demonstrated again and again how web measurement tools can catch bad actors.”

The blocker is available from the Chrome web store, but Mayer cautioned that the extension requires Chrome 17 or later. For anyone running the default Release build, the extension will not successfully install until late January 2012, he said.

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