Mozilla's Firefox Do-not-track Feature Doesn't Guarantee Anonymity

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 24, 2011

In recent years, private browsing has become a Holy Grail for both browser makers and makers of plug-ins for browsing. Not only do regular users want secure options that remove their histories and cookies from prying eyes, but all around the world there are people in countries with restrictive governments who use anonymous browsing tools to freely take advantage of the Internet in ways that they might not otherwise be able to.

We've covered the many plug-ins and sites that offer anonymous browsing tools, and many of the tools, such as Tor, are dependable. Browser makers are also working on more advanced "Do-not-track" tools, and Mozilla is among them. Its latest implementation for Firefox shouldn't be seen as a fully realized anonymity tool, though. 

Mozilla has been working on a Do-not-track implementation for Firefox that enables a privacy setting in the HTTP header. It will undoubtedly help block behavioral ads and other unwanted dross encontered during browser sessions, but it also depends on web sites at large to buy into the scheme.

The need for this kind of technology is huge. As PC World notes:

"The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recognized that tracking is a privacy concern for Web-surfing citizens, and it has proposed implementation of some sort of do-not-track framework similar to the do-not-call lists that are supposed to keep annoying telemarketers from calling you."

Those who need browsing technology that mimics do-not-call lists fall into one camp, but there are also users who need private browsing technology to keep their tracks hidden at risk of being arrested or worse. Many governments around the world do not allow completely unfettered use of the Internet, and robust anonymous browsing tools are the only way around laws for some users.

Mozilla's privacy leader has put up a blog post explaining that its own Do-not-track implementation does require buy-in from web sites:

"The challenge with adding this to the header is that it requires both browsers and sites to implement it to be fully effective."

Again, Mozilla is taking a step in the right direction with this functionality, but users should be clear about what they need, and know that total anonymity while browsing is different from mostly reliable ad blocking. There are many robust private browsing solutions that don't bank on buy-in from behavioral advertisers. The Firefox solution is not among these.