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Firefox browser to offer users ‘Do Not Track’ option

The maker of the popular Firefox internet browser is moving ahead with plans to block the most common forms of internet tracking, allowing hundreds of millions of users to limit who watches their movements across the web, company officials said yesterday.

The decision comes despite intense resistance from advertising groups, which have argued that tracking is essential to delivering well-targeted, lucrative ads that pay for many popular internet services. When Firefox’s maker, Mozilla, first publicly suggested that it might limit blocking in February, one advertising executive called it “a nuclear first strike” against the industry.

Widespread release of the blocking technology remains months away, but Mozilla officials spoke confidently yesterday about the growing sophistication of tools they are building to limit the placement of “cookies” in the browsers of individual users.

These bits of code, often placed by data collection companies users have never heard of, allow the companies to learn what sites the browser visits for many months or even years. Tracking would still be allowed by Firefox if users gave a website express permission, or if users visited regularly – as is common with shopping, social media or news sites.

“We’re trying to change the dynamic so that trackers behave better,” said Brendan Eich, chief technology officer for Mozilla, a nonprofit group. Its Firefox browser is used by about 20 percent of the world’s desktop computers, according to NetMarketShare.

The blocking technology that Mozilla is developing borrows heavily from Apple’s Safari browser, which blocks all “third-party” cookies, meaning bit of tracking codes from sites that users do not intentionally visit.

Mozilla officials said they have refined that approach in recent months to allow third-party cookies in certain rare cases – for example, when a site that a person visits regularly uses a different web address, which sometimes is done for security purposes.

Mozilla also plans to add new limits on cookies placed by sites users intentionally visit, such as Facebook, to prevent tracking when users sign off and move to other sites. Over the next few months, Mozilla plans to test and further refine its technology before making it available to all users.

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