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Internet users will receive a warning if sites do not respect their privacy thanks to new tools being developed by the web's standards setting body.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) wants to help users control how their personal data is managed.

It is designing controls to shield personal data and reveal when sites do not honour privacy requests.

The W3C now wants users, browser makers and businesses to help finish and implement the specifications.

"Users have the feeling they are being being tracked and some users have privacy concerns and would like to solve them," said Dr Matthias Schunter from IBM who chairs the W3C group drawing up the Do Not Track technologies.

Co-ordination

The working group is defining software specifications that will:

  • let browser settings tell websites to do less tracking
  • let websites acknowledge privacy requests
  • define best practices for sites so they can comply with different privacy needs

Dr Schunter said the specifications aim to end the current situation in which different browser makers adopt incompatible Do Not Track systems.

"Currently websites need to implement all these different protocols," he said. "There's no standard way to respect privacy preferences."

"We want to standardise all these protocols so they talk the same language and then tell websites what to do with them," said Dr Schunter.

The tools resulting from the W3C work would aim to be "privacy friendly" and surrender as little information as possible, he added.

For instance, he said, a site could log a user's language preference by noting their name and native tongue and store that in a cookie - little text files sites use to record information about regular visitors.

A more privacy-friendly way, said Dr Schunter, would have browser software note that its owner prefers a particular language without surrendering any identifying information.

Users could be warned about sites that do not do a good job of respecting requests to keep information private.

While the W3C cannot insist that sites and software vendors follow its lead, said Dr Schunter, it was more than likely that they would adopt the technologies.

The finished technologies are expected to be implemented by browser makers first in mid-2012 with websites following soon after as they get to grips with the best practices.

More than 15 firms and organisations are involved in the Do Not Track work including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Stanford University.

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