Your browser can tell websites how to process your data. But companies didn’t have to listen – until now


Internet users concerned about their privacy will soon have an additional weapon on their side.

You can’t see it working, but a special signal known as Global Privacy Control tells every website you visit not to pass your personal data behind your back.

Global privacy control is already hidden in the Brave web browser and DuckDuckGo browser add-on. Soon the Firefox browser will add it. Chrome users should continue to wait, however.

This is important, because asking websites or apps not to share or sell your personal information involves searching company websites and submitting a “do not sell” request to each violator. If you live in California, you have some protection for your data under the California Consumer Privacy Act, and businesses must honor those requests. If you live elsewhere, you are often out of luck. But tools like GPC are laying the groundwork for easier management of personal data as more states consider enacting data privacy legislation.

Firefox says it will roll out the global privacy control signal to its core product in the next two or three months, according to chief technology officer Eric Rescorla. Firefox didn’t embrace the signal right away, instead waiting to see what kind of effect it would have to avoid making any privacy promises that don’t hold up, Rescorla said. But the new privacy control has teeth, say its creators, and it has the potential to make a real difference to your online privacy by excluding you from data sharing before it happens.

Firefox’s move comes after California Attorney General Rob Bonta made it clear in July that under California’s privacy law, businesses are expected to treat the signal the same way as any other request for no. -sale of consumers. Bonta’s position is important because many companies have ignored the signal, making it a less effective tool despite having 40 million users worldwide.

Enforcement is underway, a representative from Bonta’s office said, and businesses are legally obligated to honor signals sent by California consumers.

What is Global Privacy Control?

Global Privacy Control is a browser setting that informs businesses of your privacy preferences, such as whether you want your personal information to be sold or shared, by sending a signal to every site you visit.

GPC is a collaborative effort of organizations and privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Consumer Reports, and is the successor to the ill-fated “Do Not Track” signal – you may remember when it first appeared in browsers in the 2010s, then fizzled out when companies failed to honor it. But global privacy control has the law on its side, at least in California.

The CCPA allows California residents to outsource “do not sell” requests and other data to someone contacting businesses on their behalf or to an authorized agent. This authorized agent does not have to be a person, it can also be a technology. This is where GPC comes in.

General interest in data privacy has grown in recent years as questionable corporate data practices come to light. Businesses take your data and sell it, or “share” it in exchange for services, says Don Marti, vice president of ecosystem innovations at CafeMedia, an ad management company and an early proponent of GPC.

“Back then, people were like, ‘Oh, I ordered something from a catalog and then I started getting 50,’” Marti said. The same is true today when you order something from a website, he explained: Soon dozens of other companies could get their hands on your data.

The kind of data sharing that GPC addresses goes beyond the web, Marti said, so it should help reduce spam, calls and faxes. According to Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade organization for digital content creators including the Washington Post, this also theoretically prevents big data companies like Facebook and Google from taking data collected on one site and using it elsewhere. . by GPC.

That’s not to say GPC is the privacy solution to rule them all, Firefox’s Rescorla said. The tool does not prevent data sharing with official business partners providing services such as fraud detection or site analysis. And right now, Californians are the only ones in the United States who are confident that GPC counts as an official takedown request under their state’s privacy law. To find out if a specific website complies with GPC, you can enter its web address in a search tool on gpcsup.com.

It remains to be seen whether Virginia and Colorado, the only other states to have passed comprehensive privacy legislation, are forcing companies to honor GPC. But the signs that California authorities will apply CPM bode well for the tool’s effectiveness.

Kint said it was “inevitable” that big-name browsers like Google’s Chrome would also face pressure to join us. Chrome, which has not implemented GPC, is by far the most popular browser with 66.7% of global desktop traffic in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 8.1% for Firefox.

“[Chrome] is the market leader and owned by a company that gets most of its money from monitoring, targeting and tracking users and collecting as much data as possible, ”said Kint. “The browser itself is a user agent, it’s supposed to work for the user. It should be obvious.

A Google spokeswoman said the company is “following developments” from GPC, but did not say whether it will add the feature.

What does this mean to you?

If you don’t want every website you visit to transmit your data, you can try sending the “do not sell” signal with GPC.

If you are browsing with Brave, GPC is already running. You can also install a browser extension like Privacy Badger, Disconnect, DuckDuckGo, Abine, and OptMeowt from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, all of which include GPC. (To find the extension, just search for “Sign Out for Chrome” or whatever browser you’re using and download the extension.)

At present, GPC is only available through Firefox Nightly, the early stage browser testing and development platform, that you can download on Mozilla.org. But in the next two or three months, it will be added to the beta test browser and then to the main browser, Rescorla said. The process for activating GPC is expected to stay the same in the short term, he added, although Firefox will add an easy-to-use interface once the app and expectations around GPC solidify.

First, open the Nightly browser and type “about: config” into the search bar. Go through the warning. Then type globalprivacycontrol in the bar at the top that says “search preference name” and two options should appear: privacy.globalprivacycontrol.enabled and privacy.globalprivacycontrol.functionality.enabled.

Both preferences must indicate “false”. But if you go to the symbol that looks like two arrows on the right side, you can toggle both to “true.”

Now open a new browser tab and navigate to globalprivacycontrol.org. You should see a green light at the top of the page indicating “GPC Signal Detected”. This means that it worked and that GPC is sending its “do not sell” tag on your behalf.


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