The global tech giant Google, a company becoming an increasingly giant information control monopoly, has done it again. I speak of course of its long, sordid, and adversarial relationship with privacy, and this weekends news that it, and several other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser. This is of particular concern and importance because that system, and those users, are specifically INTENDING that such monitoring to be BLOCKED.
The argument from privacy advocates has largely been that this massive and stealth data collection apparatus threatens user privacy and regulators should compel (not hope that) companies to obtain express consent from consumers before serving up "behavioral" ads based on their online history.
The Do Not Track flag is a rather simple concept that's already been built into Firefox and IE9. If users choose to turn on the option, every time they visit a web page the browser will send a message to the site, saying “do not track.”
To be sure, there is no magic bullet when it comes to digital tracking protecting privacy. Another solution advocated by such privacy experts as Chris Hoofnagle, is data-retention limits. As he recently stated in an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, "We know from behavioral economics that most people won't turn on do-not-track features, so if you're serious about protecting privacy, if you think there's a value here, you should protect it by default. It would require no user intervention. You would impair the ability of companies and law enforcement to create long-term profiles about people."
As a recent Berkeley study found, "Seven of the top 100 sites appeared to be using what's known as HTML5 local storage to back up standard cookies, and two were found to be respawning cookies....Third-party advertisers on the site were still employing the flash cookies, along with another type that takes advantage of the browser's cache, where online data is stored on the computer so it can be delivered faster. This ETag tracking allows advertisers to monitor users, even when they block all cookies and use a private browsing mode."