Google Grudgingly Adds “Do Not Track” Privacy Option to Chrome Browser

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 14 2012 6:07 PM

Google Grudgingly Adds “Do Not Track” Privacy Option to Chrome Browser

Google Eric Schmidt privacy
Google chairman Eric Schmidt testifies at a hearing on Google's business and privacy practices in Washington, DC, on Sept. 21, 2011.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Belatedly following the lead of Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Apple’s Safari, Google is adding a “Do Not Track” option to its increasingly popular Chrome browser, AllThingsD reports. That means future updates of the browser will allow users to tell websites that they don’t want to be tracked.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The move makes good on Google’s February pledge to support the option by year’s end in response to an online privacy push by the White House, among others. It also puts Google in a bit of a funny position. The company, which reaps billions each year from targeted advertisements that rely on tracking users, was not only the last major holdout on the Do Not Track initiative. In at least one high-profile case, it actually subverted Safari’s default privacy settings (a move for which the FTC made it pay not-so-dearly last month). 

Advertisement

Lately rivals have tried to exploit Google’s position by beefing up their own privacy efforts. Mozilla touts Firefox by pointing to its own not-for-profit status, and Microsoft’s latest edition of Internet Explorer tweaks Google by making “Do Not Track” the default option.

Google—and many, many other websites that depend on advertising for revenue—would hate to see that become the norm. So why is Mountain View embracing Do Not Track at all?

Possibly because it legitimately cares about not being evil and giving its users control over their data, sure. More importantly, though, Google recognizes that Do Not Track is far from the worst-case scenario. For one thing, it’s better for Google than watching Chrome users flee for the shelter of Mozilla or Apple, let alone Microsoft. And as a voluntary, industry-led initiative, it is far better than being forced to comply with some sweeping new federal privacy bill. Do Not Track doesn’t actually require websites to do anything differently. All it does is send them a message letting them know when a visitor to their page has the option selected on her browser. How to respond is up to the website, though industry groups are working to agree on (voluntary) standards.

Christopher Wolf, a top privacy attorney and co-chair of the nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum, tells me Google’s participation in Do Not Track will lend the initiative more credibility in Washington. “It should diminish the drumbeat for specific legislation addressing the online tracking issue.”

Finally, it gives Google a better seat at the table as the Internet figures out how exactly to deal with Do Not Track requests. All in all, it’s Google’s best chance to have its don’t-be-evil cake and eat it too.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.