Mozilla's Boot to Gecko: Do Not Track on a Mobile OS

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Article by Mark M. Jaycox

Mozilla recently introduced Boot to Gecko (B2G), a mobile standalone operating system (OS) that is HTML-5, Linux based, and open source. In addition, it is the first implementation of Do Not Track at the operating system level, and not just at the web-browser level.

It's an encouraging step by the Mozilla Foundation to insert open web standards and privacy protections among the walled gardens and proprietary-based OS software in the mobile environment.

Do Not Track is intended to address the challenge of ubiquitous online web tracking by behavioral advertisers, which monitors clicks, searches, and reading habits of users. Do Not Track includes a simple, machine-readable header indicating that a user doesn't want to be tracked.

Until now, its use was exclusive to web browsers. By enabling the Do Not Track header at the OS level, a user can indicate to apps that they must not send collected data to third parties without express user consent and should work to minimize the data they keep themselves.

There is ample evidence mobile applications are exceeding the privacy expectations of users. The first implementation of Do Not Track on a mobile OS is a big step toward ensuring users have a meaningful choice when it comes to digital tracking.

Another facet of B2G is the addition of nuance to the OS's Do Not Track settings. In Firefox, Do Not Track can be turned on, but there's no differentiator between individuals who have affirmatively opted into tracking and those that have simply not made a decision. B2G will use a three-valued setting, where the user can chose between "do not track," "no preference," and "ok to track me."

Mozilla admits that it is still in the process of how these preferences will be presented to a user, but it is a clear acknowledgement that discussions around Do Not Track aren't exclusive to a user who declares not to be tracked and a user who makes no decision on the issue. By introducing a third option, B2G better clarifies the user's intent in the online advertising sphere.

Aside from the enhanced privacy protections, B2G will offer an alternative to the walled gardens of Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS. B2G seeks to eliminate platform-specific application programming interfaces (APIs) by encouraging web-based applications and an open source OS.

Combining these two aspects, Mozilla will make it easier for users to port applications across devices running different mobile OSes. B2G will encourage the kind of integration in the mobile environment that will decrease the reliance on Apple and Android's mobile platforms.

EFF is excited about the evolution of Do Not Track onto the mobile platform. Right now, EFF and many other groups are involved in a multi-stakeholder process to define the scope and execution of Do Not Track through the Tracking Protection Working Group.

Through this participatory forum, civil liberties organizations, advertisers, and leading technologists are working together to define how Do Not Track will give users a meaningful way to control online tracking without unduly burdening companies.

Cross-posted from Electronic Frontier Foundation

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