New browser privacy tools to warn users of abuse

Internet users could soon receive a warning if web sites fall below acceptable privacy standards, thanks to a new set of controls being designed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organisations responsible for setting standards on the web.

A W3C working group is currently looking at 'Do Not Track' technologies that enable browser software to instruct a site to collect less tracking data or to acknowledge privacy requests, reports the BBC.

The biggest problem posed by the current situation is the fact that different browser makers currently employ incompatible privacy settings, says IBM's Dr Matthias Schunter, who chairs the group.

"Currently websites need to implement all these different protocols," says Schunter. "There's no standard way to respect privacy preferences."

"We want to standardise all these protocols so they talk the same language and then tell websites what to do with them," Schunter added.

By laying down best practice guidelines and setting a common software specification, Schunter hopes to end this confusion, enabling a coherent system of privacy controls to be adopted by users, browser makers and businesses - and which will enable users to be alerted if they visit a website that does not adhere to the protocols.

Schunter says the W3C's tools aim to surrender as little information as possible. He cites the example that many websites record a user's native tongue by storing their language settings and name in a cookie. The new privacy framework being created by the W3C could see that replaced with a standardised method for the browser to inform a web site of the user's language, without surrendering any identifying information.

Browser makers are expected to implement the Don Not Track group's recommendations in mid-2012, with websites following soon after.

Organisations involved in the work include Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Stanford University.