Google: Don't Be Evil, Do Not Track
At first glance the situation is this: Apple's Safari joins Microsoft's IE and Mozilla's Firefox in an effort to make it easy for us to protect our privacy online. Meanwhile, Google is left alone on the battlefield, as it refuses to bend its Chrome knee to the "Do Not Track" peer pressure. Instead, Google advocates the "Keep My Opt-Outs" Chrome plug-in that prevents users from deleting opt-out cookies. Is the "do no evil" company quietly slipping towards the dark side of privacy? Why is Google so reluctant to embrace easy privacy controls for users?
Money is the obvious answer. And it may well be correct. After all, Google stands to loose the most out of the whole bunch if users get an easy way to escape tracking, which makes targeted advertising possible and keeps the ball in Mountain View's court. However, Google has another, pretty viable excuse.
As a Google spokeswoman told Wired in an email: "The idea of ‘Do Not Track’ is interesting, but there doesn’t seem to be wide consensus on what ‘tracking’ really means, nor on how new proposals could be implemented in a way that respects people’s current privacy controls.” You may point out that "respecting people's current privacy controls" is not the same as "providing a plug-in nobody's ever going to use" but in general, Google has a point. Nobody knows what "tracking" means.
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Apple doesn't know either, despite the company's official support for "Do Not Track". The recent "Privacy and the W3C: principles and questions" document (.pdf) outlining Apple's views on what W3C should do to regulate the matter describes the DNT header as a sort of "do not disturb" door hanger. If a website you visit is nice enough, it will respect your privacy. If it isn't, it will just turn the handle and walk in. Apple suggests that the first thing that should be done in order to change this is defining what tracking actually means. Right now the definition is somewhat hazy, and that's exactly the official reason for Google to shun the whole idea.