Truste wants to add tracking in IE9?

Privacy group accuses firm of being ‘anti-privacy’

Truste, a company focused on protecting online privacy and security, is defending itself against complaints from a privacy group about its role in the creation of a Tracking Protection List (TPL) for users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 Web browser. When a beta version of Truste’s TPL for IE9 was released in February that listed nearly 4,000 domains for Web sites already bearing Truste’s seal of approval that users should allow to do tracking, the privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called it “anti-privacy technology.” But Truste says the final version of its TPL is more constricted, identifying only 17 sites that users could allow to track their browser activity safely.

The EFF’s Peter Eckersley blogged March 16 that Truste’s TPL beta was far too permissive.

“What it does is whitelist thousands of tracking domains (3,954 of them) and blocks only a handful (23). The main consequence of subscribing to that list in IE9 is to ensure that web users are tracked, not that they are protected from tracking,” Eckersley wrote.

The episode speaks to the difference between a beta release and a general availability release and to the many moving parts in the mechanism to define, establish and enforce privacy protections online.

Microsoft has taken a different approach than other browser makers to giving users a “Do Not Track” option as I noted soon after the IE9 release candidate in February. It has enlisted third party organizations to evaluate Web sites and create TPLs that identify sites based on whether their tracking practices are good or evil. Besides Truste, those other TPL providers are Abine, EasyList and PrivacyChoice.

When Truste identified 3,954 domains as being on its allow list in IE9, it was just the first in a long process of selecting which of them would ultimately stay on the allow list, said Kevin Trilli, Truste’s vice president of product development.

“We told them Microsoft has this new program out and we have a general beta program of which we’re giving temporary status for you that gives you time to react to this,” said Trilli.

Truste has long had a program where it bestows a Truste seal of approval on Web sites that adhere to certain Web privacy and security practices not just related to the browser. As the beta period continued through March 31, he explained, Truste did further vetting of its customers to see how they collected browser information and how well they respected users’ privacy. Truste has posted its third party data collection policy requirements on its Web site.

“It’s more of a deep dive into the particular mechanism that they’re doing the data collection with and how they are providing the notice and choice to the consumers,” said Trilli, who also explained the vetting process in a March 17 post.

Sometimes deceptive practices are uncovered. Trilli mentioned a household name food products company whose policy to allow people to opt-out of browser tracking expires after just 10 days. Of late, the number of domains on Truste’s allow TPL is only 17 and the number of domains on its block TPL has grown to 88.

Eckersley was unavailable for comment Thursday, according to an EFF spokeswoman.

The fact of the matter is that Web browsing tracking protection is a work in progress. Not only are there different approaches to it on IE9 versus Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari browsers, industry trade groups are fashioning their own self-regulation. And the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering regulation, but has put off a decision on federal Do Not Track rules until next year.

It’s just going to take some time to sort this all out.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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