Tuesday, May 05, 2009

TACO: Admitting Defeat

My Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out tool is now comfortably over 10,000 active users. It has also now been added to Mozilla's list of recommended add-ons, and is thus prominently featured in parts of addons.mozilla.org.

This seemed like a good time to reevaluate my TACO strategy. In particular, I have decided to admit defeat in my rather futile attempt to bully Microsoft and Yahoo into better protecting the privacy of their users. I have come to realize that the benefits of protecting TACO users from Yahoo and Microsoft's behavioral advertising simply outweighs any potential pressure I might be applying to these companies.

Over the past two month, 5 different online advertising companies have switched to a non-identifiable opt-out cookie. My original (and somewhat naive) plan was to refuse to add support in TACO for any company which did not provide opted out users with complete anonymity. That is, once the user opted out, the company would cease installing any other identifiable cookies into that user's browser.

The fact is that users are really only given a single way of expressing their interest in having some privacy -- the behavioral advertising opt-out. While many companies interpret this as "We will still collect lots of data on you, but won't use it to customize advertisements", many users are likely to interpret it as a more comprehensive "stop tracking me, don't collect any identifiable data on me, and don't show me any targeted advertisements."

While I still believe that advertisers should offer this latter form of opt-out to end users, they currently do not, and I now realize that I do not have the power to force Yahoo and Microsoft down this path. For such a change to be made, the US Federal Trade Commission or Congress would need to take more of an interest.

For now, I continue to reject any support for advertisers whose opt-out mechanism itself is 100% identifiable. That is, while Yahoo and Microsoft offer a generic opt-out, they also force other identifiable cookies upon the end-user. Other advertising companies, such as Specific Media and Fetchback only offer identifiable opt-out cookies, which I believe are an unreasonable invasion of end-user privacy.

Version 1.7 of TACO is now available for experimental download, and it will be automatically rolled out to all TACO users in a few days, once the Mozilla team has reviewed the changes to make sure there is nothing malicious in the code.


Anonymous said...

If only I was a poet I could express my proper gratitude for such a tool, alas...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. <3

I've theorized on a system similar to TACO, now I feel obligated to promote the hell out of it.

Anonymous said...

Just to give you an idea, right now I have 8999 friends on just one of my myspace accounts - I have 9. Hopefully you'll get a few downloads with a bulletin or two.