Stanford's Cookie Clearinghouse adds another layer of security to web browsers

People are becoming more vigilant when it comes to online privacy, so Stanford University's new initiative couldn't have come at a better time. The project, called Cookie Clearinghouse, will curate catalogues of websites whose cookies browsers should or shouldn't allow. As designed, it works along with a Safari-like patch Mozilla is testing for Firefox that allows cookies from sites you've visited but blocks third-party cookies from sites you haven't. Theoretically, that'll prevent advertisers or other entities from tracking you around the web, but the method isn't foolproof -- having a centralized list will prevent your browser from saving the cookies of an ad or a spam website you've accidentally clicked on.

To establish which sites are kosher and which aren't, the folks at Stanford are slated to meet up with an advisory board. It will be comprised of privacy researchers, law pundits, small business experts, as well as reps from Mozilla and Opera. Unlike Do Not Track -- another Stanford initiative from which this one later evolved -- advertisers don't have to opt in for inclusion on either list. It's just up to developers (other than Mozilla) to integrate this more thorough solution into their browsers' privacy options.

[Image credit: Brian Richardson]

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Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society Launches "Cookie Clearinghouse" to Enable User Choice for Online Tracking

STANFORD, Calif., June 19, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford Law School launched a new online privacy initiative today called the "Cookie Clearinghouse," which will empower Internet users to make informed choices about online privacy. The Cookie Clearinghouse is being spearheaded by Aleecia M. McDonald, the Director of Privacy at CIS.

Websites may place small files called "cookies" on an Internet user's machine, and some types of cookies can be used to collect information about the user without his or her consent. The Cookie Clearinghouse will develop and maintain an "allow list" and "block list" to help Internet users make privacy choices as they move through the Internet. The Clearinghouse will identify instances where tracking is being conducted without the user's consent, such as by third parties that the user never visited. To establish the "allow list" and "block list," the Cookie Clearinghouse is consulting with an advisory board that will include individuals from browser companies including Mozilla and Opera Software, academic privacy researchers, as well as individuals with expertise in small businesses and in European law, and the advisory board will continue to grow over time. The Clearinghouse will also offer the public an opportunity to comment. With this input, the Clearinghouse will develop an objective set of criteria for when to include a website's cookies on the lists. The Clearinghouse will create and maintain the lists. Browser developers will then be able to choose whether to incorporate the lists into the privacy options they offer to consumers. Company websites with cookies that have been included on the "block list" will be able to respond to the Clearinghouse to correct any mistakes in classification.

"Internet users are starting to understand that their online activities are closely monitored, often by companies they have never heard of before," said McDonald, "But Internet users currently don't have the tools they need to make online privacy choices. The Cookie Clearinghouse will create, maintain, and publish objective information. Web browser companies will be able to choose to adopt the lists we publish to provide new privacy options to their users."

The need for the Clearinghouse evolved out of an effort by CIS fellows called Do Not Track. Initially, Stanford's Do Not Track work raised consumer awareness about the way in which "tracking cookies" are used by websites--and by unaffiliated third parties--to compile extensive individual browsing histories that provide those companies with data about individual consumer behavior. This effort has since progressed to a global standards effort led by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C.) More recently, CIS researchers began a new effort to prevent companies from tracking without the user's consent. CIS student affiliate Jonathan Mayer wrote a software patch for use in Mozilla's Firefox browser that limits third-party tracking through cookies. Mayer's patch mimics existing functionality in the Safari browser, which already prevents tracking from websites users have not visited. While Do Not Track efforts continue into their third year, the Cookie Clearinghouse is a new opportunity to accelerate Internet users' ability to make effective online privacy choices.

For more details, please visit the Cookie Clearinghouse: