Google Reverses Course On Do Not Track; White House Pushes Privacy

By February 27, 2012
Google has agreed to adopt the Do Not Track Policy

Image: Google

Search giant Google has reversed course and agreed to install a “Do Not Track” button on the Chrome browser in the near future.

Do Not Track is a proposed policy, already adopted by major browsers including Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, that allows users to opt out of being tracked by web sites they do not visit. Google had previously opposed adding Do Not Track support on Chrome.

“We’re pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘do-not-track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls,” said Google Senior Vice President of Advertising Susan Wojcicki in a statement.

The move comes soon after Google was embarrassed by the revelation that it had circumvented privacy controls to keep an eye on the browsing habits of Safari users who had opted out of being tracked. At least two lawsuits have been filed against Google in the wake of the public relations disaster, and the decision to support Do Not Track could be seen as an attempt to save face by a company that was built on the informal motto “Don’t be evil.”

Stanford University graduate student Jonathan Mayer, who discovered and publicized Google’s Safari workaround, was pleased to hear that Google had gotten on board with Do Not Track. Mayer also gave “mad kudos” to the advertising industry for backing the policy proposal.

Separately, the White House released a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights (PDF) that the Commerce Department will use to develop policies amenable to commercial interests and privacy advocates. While that move may not have been caused by the cookie story, it was certainly in response to a larger narrative of concern over consumers’ expectations of privacy on the web.

The document promises consumers transparency, respect for the context in which users provide data, security, access and accuracy, focused and reasonable data collection, and accountability.

“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” said President Obama in a statement. “As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That’s why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure. By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth.”

The browser Opera, which has a small but devoted following, recently released an unstable build with support for Do Not Track.