AVG is adding active “Do Not Track” technology to its security suites in a move designed to give consumers more control over their online privacy.
The technology – available as a free service pack to AVG's free and paid-for consumer security software packages – will enable users to actively block some advertising networks from sharing data and therefore goes beyond the Do Not Track header, which is passive and based on voluntary cooperation by advertising networks and websites.
Passive “Do Not Track” was introduced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and relies on websites’ voluntary adherence to notifications that particular surfers wish to avoid being tracked. However, websites are not obliged to abide by do-not-track requests and, in practice, the vast majority of sites fail to respect these types of privacy requests.
AVG's active “Do Not Track” technology allows users to block tracking requests from their PCs, irrespective of whether or not an advertising network supports privacy requests. Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CTO at AVG, explained that the technology will block tracking cookies or information in URLs, among other tracking techniques. Granular controls will give users the choice of whether to block tracking directly or turn it on and off as desired, with site-specific preferences.
Websites commonly collect data about users via web analytic tools so they can serve up ads based on the content users are viewing. But this type of info-collection pertains only to activity on the website itself.
But tracking goes further than this because it can be used to collect and share data with third-party companies. For example, some forms of tracking allow advertisers to follow users around the internet and deliver targeted advertising across multiple websites after building a profile on consumers.
Consumers as well as policy-makers are growing increasingly concerned about this practice. Last month, the Obama administration proposed a “Consumer Bill of Rights” for privacy and the EU has previously proposed similar initiatives.
Tracking is not inherently bad, according to AVG, however users have a right to greater control over how data on their surfing habits is collected and shared. AVG's technology is available as part of a service pack, released on Tuesday, to AVG's free and paid-for security products.
Ben-Itzhak explained that once the service pack is installed, users will see an additional icon in their browser. Clicking on this icon will allow surfers to see the service services detected – for example web analytics, ad networks and social buttons placed by social networks – alongside controls governing whether or not the user allows or block these types of communications. Items in the icon's menu will be displayed alongside links to the relevant data retention or privacy policies. The "social button" feature, for example, can block data being sent to Facebook from affiliate sites.
This move will make AVG the first antivirus vendor to provide active Do Not Track. Many browser vendors including Mozilla and Opera already support passive Do Not Track.
Ben-Itzhak told El Reg that while it would be technically possible for browser vendors to add active blocking protection, it isn't available now and said it is best offered as an add-on to a security suite with links to the relevant privacy policies. He described the move to offer online privacy controls as a logical extension to previous enhancements of the AVG anti-virus scanner, such as Linkscanner, the firm's occasionally controversial safe search component.
The latest AVG Service Pack also offers a feature called WiFi Guard – offering protection from unknown Wi-Fi access points. After installing AVG’s 2012 Service Pack, a pop‐up window automatically warns users if their device attempts to connect to a never‐before‐used public Wi-Fi access point.
The approach is designed to provide warning about rogue W-iFi hotspots, established by cyber-criminals using the name of a popular coffee shop chain, hotel or public Wi-Fi provider and designed to eavesdrop on private conversations or snaffle user credentials..
AVG claims an installed base for its security suites and anti-virus scanners (free and paid for) of 108 million. ®