Stanford students create a Do Not Track Software

Two researchers from Stanford are not satisfied with the “We Do Not Track” claims businesses and marketers make online. That’s why they want to make sure that if businesses don’t assist the Federal Trade Commission in its push for a “do not track” mechanism to protect online consumer privacy; they will make online users capable enough to help FTC achieve its goal.

Stanford University graduate student Jonathan Mayer and post-doctoral researcher Arvind Narayanan, have created a software that will let users opt out of third-party Web tracking and tell advertisers to stop following them online.

In the words of Mayer, irrespective of claims made, most businesses and marketers tract user behavior, which becomes visible like this:

“If an internet user is on a site like Amazon and is looking for shoes, then someone (Amazon? Marketer? Tracking Software?) tells a behavioral advertising service that the said user has been looking for shoes. So the next time the user is one on another shopping site, they’ll ask if he/she is still looking for shoes.”

According to the two Stanford-ites, this is invasive.

How the new software works:

Whenever a Web browser such as Firefox or Chrome requests content or sends data (a user searches something or types some URL on the address bar) using HTTP—the protocol that underlies the Web—the new software can optionally include extra information called a “header.” Do Not Track adds a particular header that signals the user does not want to be tracked.


Do Not Track is available as an add-on for Firefox, and Mayer and Narayanan are working to make it operate with Chrome. Safari and Internet Explorer do not support their software.

Once the add-on is installed, the user doesn’t have to do anything else. Each time a Web site is visited, a do-not-track message is automatically sent.

The students, who have been working with John Mitchell, professor of computer science, are also creating ways to configure Web servers conform to their code.

Notably, FTC’s current Do Not Track mechanism is only advisory; and can’t be enforced. But once a user who instructs a marketer or business not to track him or her online; sees that the said marketer or business is not respecting his/her privacy; then the same FTC mechanism can become enforceable. As this time a user will be filing a legal complaint.

The FTC’s recommendations—contained in a 79-page report that was approved unanimously by the five-member commission—are open to public comments through the end of January. --------

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