/ Technology

Are new online privacy tools good enough?

Web browser saying 'security'

Adobe’s launched a new tool to eliminate Flash cookies, and both Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox are introducing anti-tracking features. Good news for web users – but will this new appreciation for our online privacy last?

Finally, after years of intense lobbying by online privacy advocates worldwide and intervention by the US Federal Trade Commission, Adobe has surrendered and developed a tool which it claims can quickly eliminate Flash cookies from your computer.

We’ve yet to test how effective and consumer-friendly this tool is, but we know that its current Macromedia tool is an unwieldy instrument, requiring an immense amount of effort and patience on the web users’ part.

Hopefully, this new tool will prove easier to use – it should also be widely available with Google Chrome expected to roll the feature out in its updated browser.

New anti-tracking trend

Not to be outdone by Adobe, and to show that they too take online privacy seriously, Microsoft has added an anti-tracking capability to its latest version of Internet Explorer (IE9) and Firefox has proposed a new ‘Do Not Track’ tickbox.

What’s great about Microsoft’s anti-tracking tool (the company claims) is that it doesn’t just remove standard and Flash cookies, but a whole lot of other technologies – including web beacons – increasingly used to track the online behaviour of unsuspecting internet users.

As for Firefox’s proposed ‘Do Not Track’ tool, this would let users add a preference to their browser that would broadcast their desire to opt-out of tracking. We’ll be looking a bit closer at whether web browsers should offer ‘opt-out’ tools in a Conversation next week.

Responsible action is needed

If you couple online tracking and its privacy violations with the perceived internet security risks such as malware, scareware, spam and viruses, it wouldn’t be inconceivable to imagine a scenario where consumers desert the web in droves.

So it’s good to see that web technology companies are beginning to realise they need to make a concerted effort to act responsibly and develop tools to protect users from attack – whatever the direction. Otherwise they could end up damaging the very platform that made them their fortune.