Micro-blogging website dynamo Twitter announced today that it will allow visitors to enable the Firefox Browser's Do Not Track feature, allowing users who don't want any info gathered about them to visit the site anonymously.
Because the Firefox Do Not Track feature only works if websites allow it, the move is seemingly a show of goodwill by Twitter towards its users. More and more websites are allowing Firefox to disable cookies and other tracking mechanisms for people who visit their sites, but there is still a push for stiffer regulation across the Internet.
Doesn't Everybody Like Cookies?
Cookies in the culinary sense, yes. Everybody likes cookies. In the tech world, those little breadcrumbs (we call them cookies) that browsers install for various purposes are also somewhat a source of scorn for privacy advocates.
The problem is, while cookies enable some really great website functionality across the board, they have a tendency to freak people out when it's discovered what they can be used for. Cookies allow websites to identify visitors anonymously, but as more and more data is collected, websites are analyzing this data with laser-like precision.
In other words, over time, with enough anonymous information, websites can get to know people rather well. The fundamental question then is when does it become a privacy issue. At what point has a website gathered enough info about people to be a well-run site versus mining data specifically for commercial purposes?
Twitter seems to be of the mind it's better to allow people to opt-out now, and perhaps build-up some goodwill in the growing privacy battle that is the Do Not Track movement.
Web Experience Pushed Aside
Because people love their Internets, it's maybe counterintuitive to think some people would want to ban all manner of tracking in the name of privacy. Without cookies, the Web simply would not work as well as it does now, and that's why virtually every website uses them to some effect.
Cookies do have legitimate uses in simple analytics and just making sure websites display what people want them to display. That's not the same thing as mining data for websites to use in a sales pitch.
This part of the debate may be getting pushed aside in the hyperbole from both sides of the fight. Privacy advocates may want a law passed allowing people to opt out of all types of tracking, and businesses may howl that doing so would destroy e-commerce, but neither is likely to happen. Not in 2012, anyway.
It is an election year after all, and to further muddy the waters, the White House's chief cybersecurity coordinator quit May 17. Howard A. Schmidt is returning to the private life, but the White House is still pushing for some kind of legislation in the Consumer Prvacy Bill of Rights fashion.
While the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed the House of Representatives already, it may not make it past the president's desk. Obviously, even in the U.S. government there isn't much agreement about how to add any new regulations governing Internet privacy.
Meanwhile, the World Wide Web Consortium continues to update its own Do Not Track framework, and the international standards therein will continue to evolve until June, 2012. That's when the group is slated to release its final recommendations, though that timeline could easily be pushed back.
Let us know in the comments if you support Do Not Track or if you support it for some websites but not for others.