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W3C plans tools to alert users to unauthorised online tracking

Standards to ensure Internet users can indicate their tracking preferences, and warn them if the preferences are ignored

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published its plans for standards that allow internet users to indicate their preference for online cookie tracking.

A recent study from Stanford University found that many top websites share their visitors' names, usernames or other personal information with their partners without telling users and, in some cases, without knowing they're doing it.

The UK government has tried to solve the privacy issue by introducing a law that requires website owners to give users the ability to consent to the installation of cookies on their Internet browsers.

The organisation is hoping to strike the balance between protecting users' privacy and providing them with personalised online experiences, for example, through targeted advertising.

In its first draft for the new set of standards, W3C has published two documents, the Tracking Preference Expression and the Tracking Compliance and Scope Specification.

The Tracking Preference Expression defines the technical tools for users to indicate their cross-site tracking preferences, and for sites to show if and how they are respecting these preferences. It also defines the mechanism for allowing users to approve any site-specific exceptions.

The second document defines the meaning of a 'do not track' preference and outlines the practices for websites to comply with this request.

The standards have been drafted by stakeholders in the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group, which includes organisations such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Adobe Systems, Mozilla Foundation, Microsoft, Stanford University, Consumer Watchdog and the German Independent Centre for Privacy Protection (ULD).

Dr Matthias Schunter, IBM research and co-chair of the working group, said: "Smarter commerce and marketing strategies can and must co-exist with respect for individual privacy.

"Open standards that help design privacy into the fabric of how business and society use the Web can enable trust in a sustainable manner."

The W3C is inviting feedback on the documents, which it expects to become standards by mid-2012.

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