Mozilla is working on a project that would make the browser a central repository for a list of all of your interests. Today, the nonprofit behind Firefox argues, many websites offer personalized experiences, “but too often, users unknowingly trade their personal information for this better experience.” Instead of sharing your interest graph with lots of vendors online, Firefox could divine your hobbies and interests by simply looking at your browsing history.
The organization has played with this idea before, and today’s proposal comes at a time when Mozilla is involved in a long-standing argument with the advertising industry over how it should treat cookies and Do Not Track.
The idea behind the proposal is that users should be able to explicitly and transparently share their interests with the websites they visit. These sites then would be able to tailor your experience according to your preferences without having to create their own profile of your interests. This way, a site can be personalized even if you’re visiting for the first time.
“We want to give individuals more participation in their Web interactions so they can more easily get what they want, in a clearly defined way,” Mozilla’s senior VP of business and legal affairs Harvey Anderson writes today. “Our goal with UP (User Personalization) and other innovations in this area is to increase the quality of the user experience. In order to accomplish this, interactions must provide consumers with options on how much and which types of information to disclose in order to get the most relevant content and services on the Web.”
Mozilla is currently experimenting with these ideas, but it doesn’t look as if we’ll see any real implementations of them in the near future. When Mozilla first talked about this idea, however, it noted that websites would be required not to track the information you share with them (though it’s hard to see how this could be controlled) and at the time, the idea was to give users fine-grained control over how much information about themselves they want to share.
For the time being, though, Mozilla just wants to get the conversation started – something that should be pretty easy to do, given that the advertising industry is closely watching the organization’s every move.
A U.S. Northern District Court of California judge approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Facebook on Monday, which claimed that Facebook’s “Sponsored Stories” product shared users’ “Like” data with friends without the ability to opt out. Facebook will pay out $20 million to members of the suit as a result of the settlement. “We are pleased that the settlement has received final approval,” a Facebook spokesperson told AllThingsD.
Pinterest announced today that it will add support for Do Not Track, the web browser mechanism that allows users to opt-out of having their personal data and activity collected by websites and third parties. It’s not the first social media company to make this move – Twitter, for example, announced last year that it would also support the Do Not Track technology.
Do Not Track, for those unfamiliar, is similar in spirit to the Do Not Call registry, in that it allows consumers to state their preferences – in this case, that they do not want to have their website browsing activity tracked or personal data collected. The technology blocks cookies that collect that personal information, and specifically, the cookies left on users’ computers and devices by third parties for the purposes of advertising. However, Do Not Track to work requires cooperation between browser makers, website publishers, and developers to implement.
While the major browser makers have gotten on board, there are still only a small number of websites that support Do Not Track. And until today, Twitter was the only other social network to have made that commitment.
Explains Pinterest in a statement, “consensus around the technical specs for Do Not Track remain elusive. However, we believe people are making a choice when they turn on Do Not Track. Today, we’re committing to respecting that choice.”
Pinterest users will now be able to turn the feature on or off from their account Settings page at any time, the company says.
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Senior Staff Technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), says that Pinterest and Twitter are both supporting Do Not Track in similar ways: by either a browser signal or a preference set by the site itself. His organization is focused on improving consumer choice and privacy options, and hopes that Pinterest’s move will lead to more companies doing the same.
Why Support “Do Not Track” Now? Because Pinterest Is Getting More Personalized
Pinterest’s announcement about its support for Do Not Track comes at a time when the service is interested in better analyzing user activity in order to introduce more personalized features. For example, the company announced today that it’s also adding a new “Edit Your Home Feed” button on web and mobile that will make it easier to follow or unfollow boards. When you go in to edit your feed, you’ll be shown personalized pin and board suggestions based on things you’ve already been pinning on the service.
So, for example, if you pin a lot of vegetarian recipes, the company explains to us, you’ll then be shown other popular boards that have similar content. In addition, the company will also soon introduce recommendations for boards based on the sites you visit with the “Pin It” button – something that’s similar to what other companies, including Twitter, do to personalize their own experiences.
By adding support for Do Not Track just as the company begins to dig further into user data, Pinterest is at least giving its users a choice in whether or not their data is collected, and it’s one of only a few sites to really do so.
However, Do Not Track is a technology and proposal that’s currently being debated by the industry, with those companies dependent on ad revenue, like Yahoo, TechCrunch parent AOL, and others, fighting with browser makers on how the push toward a Do Not Track standard should proceed. As the CDT explains it, a lot of the debate centers around whether DNT should mean “do not collect” data, “do not target” users, or whether it should mean “practice good data hygiene.” (In Pinterest’s case, it’s the former, which is what DNT means today).
The interesting thing about Pinterest’s implementation of DNT is that it will eventually change what the end-user experience is for those who do or do not enable the setting. For those who permit Pinterest to personalize the site, they’ll have an improved way to discover new content, pinners, pins, and boards they may like. But for those who opt out of tracking, personalized boards will not be shown, which means those users’ Pinterest experiences will remain basically unchanged.
Given that Pinterest’s discovery mechanisms today include a basic category list, search box, and “find friends” functionality, regular users have likely been looking forward to the introduction of new features that would allow them to better explore more of Pinterest.
But now, those users will have to make a choice about whether or not their privacy – or their personalizations – are the most important thing to them.
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