A company that builds tools to give greater privacy online released a free browser extension on Tuesday that lets users selectively decide which websites they will allow to track them.
The extension, from the company Abine, is called "Do Not Track Plus," and is compatible with Mozilla's Firefox browser.
The extension uses the proposed do-not-track mechanism under discussion in the US and elsewhere. The mechanism allows a user to opt out of behavioral advertising -- where a user's movements on the Internet are recorded and tracked -- by sending an HTTP header to a website informing the site the user does not want to be watched.
So far, websites and advertising networks are not employing do not track, but it is expected soon that companies will embrace it following demands from users for greater privacy when browsing the Internet, said Rob Shavell, co-founder of Abine.
Browser makers have responded to those privacy concerns. Mozilla's latest Firefox 4 browser supports the do-not-track mechanism. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 browser has what it calls "Tracking Protection," which allows users to import third-party lists of domains whose tracking advertising technologies will be blocked. Abine also publishes a an advertising block list for IE9.
Firefox's approach is all-or-nothing, however: Employing the do-not-track feature blocks all tracking. But Abine's Do Not Track Plus add-on allows users to selectively decide which sites they agree to be tracked and which ones to ban, Shavell said.
Abine hasn't built an add-on for Google's Chrome browser since the company has made it technically impossible to create a customized HTTP header, which is what the do not track mechanism relies on, Shavell said. Google has made its fortunes from online advertising and owns Doubleclick, a major online advertising network.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission supports a do-not-track mechanism for consumers. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is due to hold a hearing in Washington, D.C., titled "The State of Online Consumer Privacy."
The committee will examine online privacy issues, including the collection and dissemination of sensitive and private consumer information, according to a summary of the hearing.