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Google adds 'Do Not Track' to Chrome precursor

Privacy feature support shows up in Chromium, the project that feeds code into Chrome

Google has moved a step closer to making good on its promise to support "Do Not Track" in Chrome by the end of this year.

Chromium, Google's open-source project that feeds code into Chrome, released a build last week that includes the Do Not Track (DNT) privacy setting.

It's unclear how quickly the setting will be moved to the multi-channel build structure of Chrome itself. Google maintains three versions of Chrome: Dev, Beta and Stable, each succeeding version more polished than the last.

The Stable branch of Chrome is due for an upgrade: Google last updated the browser on July 30, when it shipped Chrome 21. The company usually upgrades Chrome every six to eight weeks, putting Chrome 22 on the horizon and Chrome 23, which is now in the Dev channel, up for delivery sometime in November.

In February, Google said it would add DNT support to Chrome after the White House said it would introduce new online privacy legislation in Congress.

Chrome joined other browsers, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari, that already transmitted special information with every HTTP page request to tell sites the user does not want to be tracked by online advertisers.

Then, Google promised to add DNT to Chrome by the end of the year, but declined to spell out a time or describe how the browser would present the option to users. Google was the last major browser maker to commit to DNT.

In Chromium "23.0.1266.0 build 156627" or later, the DNT setting appears under the "Privacy" section of the browser's Settings screen.

To pull up the Privacy section, users must first click the "Show advanced settings..." link at the bottom of the page. Checking the box marked "Send a 'Do Not Track' request with your browsing traffic" switches on the privacy feature.

Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science and law at Stanford University, and one of two researchers at Stanford who created the HTTP header concept to signal a user's DNT preference, bemoaned the placement of the setting in Chromium.

Chromium puts the 'Do Not Track' setting under the Privacy section of its Settings screen. Expect Chrome to do the same.

"Good: looks like Do Not Track will be in the Chrome privacy preferences. Less good: have to click 'Show advanced settings...' to see them," Mayer wrote on Twitter last Thursday.

Chrome places the Privacy section of Settings in the same location, however.

Although browsers have, or will, implement DNT on their end, the crux is websites, which must enable it on their ends. Twitter is the largest online service, by far, to have implemented DNT.

A group composed of advertisers, browser makers, privacy advocates and others have yet to finalize the DNT standard. The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) standards-setting group has, however, decided that browser makers cannot set the DNT signal for users.

But a move by Microsoft has roiled the group.

In May, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) would enable DNT by default. During Windows 8 setup, for example, DNT is automatically turned on if users accept the default settings offered during the operating system's setup. They can, however, switch it off during that setup process, or at any later time.

Google has said little publicly, but by the way it presents DNT in Chromium, it looks to be firmly in the off-by-default camp. Apple's Safari also leaves its DNT option unchecked.

Since May, members of the W3C group have debated whether websites should be required to honor IE10's on-by-default signal.

The controversy over IE10 and DNT was stirred again two weeks ago when developers of the Apache Web server software added a patch to ignore the DNT header when it is sent by IE10. According to U.K.-based Netcraft, Apache powers 55% of all active websites worldwide.

Users can download the most-recent Chromium build from this website.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.


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