First Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), and now Mozilla. One by one, web browser companies are revealing their plans for beefed-up privacy settings.
When Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz called for better online privacy protection earlier this month, he acknowledged that browser companies have an important role to play, especially in order to implement a “Do Not Track” browser setting. “We’ll give them some time,” said Leibowitz. “But we’d like to see them work a lot faster.”
Well, count Firefox among those companies that are responding to Leibowitz’s call. Gary Kovacs, who just became Mozilla’s new CEO in October, has confirmed to the AFP that when Firefox 4 is released early next year, it will include an anti-tracking option. The amount of information given to third-party advertisers needs to be kept in check, Kovacs said, with the user must be in control of how much data gets handed out.
“Where I go on the internet is how I live my life; that is a lot of data to hold just for someone to serve me ads,” Kovacs said. “You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.”
Kovacs also took a shot at Google (NSDQ: GOOG). Despite the face that Google’s competing Chrome browser is an open-source project, like Firefox, Google’s browser is ultimately “tied to their commercial purposes,” Kovacs said. Google has historically been a supporter of Mozilla projects, but now that Google is a competitor in the browser business, the relationship has changed, said Kovacs. “When we get together we are either hugging or hitting, it depends on the day.”
Mozilla is different from the other major browser companies in that it is under the control of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation. The company’s Firefox is the second most-popular web browser in the U.S., after Internet Explorer. Other popular browsers include Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari.
The government’s recent call to beef up online privacy protection has put the makers of web browsers, who need to balance the concerns of users, website owners, and advertisers, at the center of the privacy debate. Mozilla isn’t the only browser company to have responded to the government’s concerns. Earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled some of the new anti-tracking protection it will build into Internet Explorer 9. That will include the creation of Tracking Protection lists, which would allow users to keep updated lists of which services and sites they don’t want watching them as they browse the web.
The AFP news service asked Google what it was going to do with the “Do Not Track” idea, and got a cooler response. The company said: “The idea of Do Not Track is interesting, but there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what ‘tracking’ really means, nor how new proposals could be implemented in a way that respects people’s current privacy controls.”