While the industry continues to wrestle with the logistics of opting-in to consumer behavioral targeting, a Harvard University researcher has developed a way to opt-out.
Christopher Soghoian, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, told The Harvard Crimson that he has developed a browser extension that prevents advertising networks from tracking internet usage habits. The Google plug-in, entitled Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO), allows users to opt out of 27 advertising networks.
The plug-in has been added at Firefox and was downloaded by over 1,790 users as of March 15. However, user comments complained of download errors. Soghoian says he has already talked to Microsoft about incorporating TACO into Internet Explorer, but TACO has been designed more as a statement than an actual solution. “I’m not silly enough to expect this to be downloaded by grandmothers or non-technical people. I just want to draw attention to the issue,” said Soghoian.
This attitude may become a thorny issue for opt-out developers and privacy advocates. Publicity for this issue is not hard to come by, as was plainly evident in yesterday's coverage of EPIC's petition for tighter regulation of Google's cloud services. Activists will make their point to regulatory agencies, and they can even use technology to drive that point home. But they can't alienate the user.
It's reasonable to assume that if Soghoian has developed an open source opt-out, he's not alone. If there is an academic cottage business growing around ad networks and targeting, the solutions need to be user-friendly and they need to work. Users cannot come away from an attempt to secure their privacy frustrated, and judging from the Firefox comments, this one was frustrating. Users just might decide that inaction is the best action, and that works against everything people like Soghoian are fighting for.