Playing with beta software is never the wisest of choices, especially if the developer in question has a release schedule which is completely out of whack with what most typical end-users would expect. And if you currently happen to be testing out the beta builds of Mozilla's browser, you'd better prepare to start hitting the download managers, for the company has just rolled out its eleventh beta release of Firefox 4.
Is there such a concept known as 'privacy' when the Internet is concerned? Many might want to think that they have the right to prevent content providers from tracking visitor behavior such as browsing preferences and online habbits. After all, it does sound a little disconcerting to know that data that could potentially be used to identify oneself is easily floating around the depths of cyberspace, with determined hackers and spammers waiting to spring on the slightest opportunity to blast out spam mails about the latest in men's health supplements. Not exactly the nicest of thoughts.
Naturally, the increased awareness about online privacy (or rather, the lack of it) has spurred browser developers into searching for ways that could assist in preventing an ignorant user from unknowingly giving away such information without her consent. And it seems that Mozilla has finally settled on what it believes is the best possible solution: to implement a Do Not Track feature in its just-released eleventh beta of Firefox 4.
According to a blog posting made by one of the browser's developers, the" Do Not Track feature allows users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header with every click or page view in Firefox". When enabled, web sites will be told by Firefox via a header that the user does not wish to be tracked online.
"The advantages to the header technique are that it is less complex and simple to locate and use, it is more persistent than cookie-based solutions, and it doesn’t rely on user’s finding and loading lists of ad networks and advertisers to work".
Of course, one might be tempted to wonder why Mozilla had to take an entire year to realize that the Internet needed such a feature to better safeguard user privacy. Unfortunately, it seems that users who have been waiting that long for such a privacy feature will probably wind up being very disappointed for now. This is due to the fact that while the feature is confirmed to be functional on the browser's end, the same cannot be said for the millions of websites in cyberspace today which neither recognize nor support the new Do Not Track header.
And while Firefox believes that the chicken-and-egg problem can be solved when content providers and webmasters have no choice but to honour user preferences after receieve large enough numbers of the header appearing in their server access logs, we'd guard against unmerited optimism until some concrete results finally show up. After all, do users really think that content providers would sacrifice potential ad revenue to be gained from such tracking over some moral issue about privacy?
*The eleventh beta of Firefox 4 can be downloaded from the Mozilla 4 Beta page here. And just to make it clear, beta software is usually anything but stable, so the usual warning of VR-Zone not being responsible for 'unfortunate mishaps' such as exploding PCs and data mysteriosuly disappearing off hard disks applies.