The government says it won’t regulate sites like Google and Facebook. Will ad and tracking blockers do the job instead?
The Federal Communications Commission is steering clear of requests to make Do Not Track support mandatory on sites such as Google and Facebook.
Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog had petitioned the FCC to step in with a rulemaking process, in hopes of giving Do Not Track some teeth. Currently, Do Not Track serves as nothing more than a polite request not to be followed around the web by ad trackers. Sites whose business models rely on targeted advertising tend not to comply.
On Friday, the FCC denied Consumer Watchdog’s petition, which asked the agency to regulate websites under the same Title II rules it uses to enforce net neutrality. In a response, the FCC reiterated that it only aims to regulate the privacy practices of Internet service providers such as Comcast, not individual apps or websites.
Why this matters: Do Not Track has been around for a few years now, usually as an option that users can enable in their web browsers. However, ad-supported websites have little incentive to comply, and the standard itself has become watered-down as the web’s governing bodies try to devise something that might see any adoption at all. The FCC petition was Consumer Watchdog’s way of trying to get Do Not Track requests to stick.
Enforcement via blocking
The good news for users is that they are increasingly gaining more tools to take matters into their own hands.
Mozilla, for instance, recently updated its Firefox browser with a new Tracking Protection feature , which activates when users launch a private browsing session. This feature blocks both advertisements and tracking code embedded into websites. Ad blocking as a whole is also on the rise, especially with the arrival of content blocker support in the iOS 9 version of Apple’s Safari browser.
If you still want to see ads—perhaps, as a show of support for ad-supported sites—the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been working on a tool called Privacy Badger, which blocks third-party trackers, supercookies, and browser fingerprinting.
Over time, we may see major websites respond with more privacy options for users in order to prevent losing ad revenue entirely. (We’ve already seen Google spearhead a response to ad blocking on mobile devices, for instance.) For now, users have a few ways to muster their own defenses against ad tracking, with no government involvement required.
Jared writes for PCWorld and TechHive from his remote outpost in Cincinnati.