If you're sick of websites tracking you and just as frustrated with website pop-ups prompting you to dig through obscure browser cookie settings -- good news. An alliance including web publishers and browser makers has developed technology to stop websites from selling or sharing the data they gather about you, and you can try it now.
If the effort succeeds, a single setting in your browser could forbid website publishers from selling your data -- at least if you live in California. And unlike a related effort years ago called Do Not Track, this one could have legal teeth.
Allies include publishers like The New York Times and Washington Post and browser makers Brave and Mozilla. One way to try it is with the Nightly test version of Brave, the browser maker said. Another is by installing DuckDuckGo's mobile browser or desktop browser extension, the privacy-centric search engine said. "We hope [Global Privacy Control] will become a widely adopted standard," DuckDuckGo said in a tweet.
The Global Privacy Control project dovetails with two recent privacy laws. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the earlier Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe are why so many websites make you wrestle with settings for cookies. Those small text files are key to how many websites track your online activity.
One provision of the CCPA allows for a single switch you could set in your browser, through the browser itself or a browser extension, that would tell every website what you wanted and sweep away those dialog boxes. That's what the alliance members have built, and they're working to make it legally binding under the CCPA so websites would have to honor the setting.
It's the latest move in a years-long effort to balance privacy protections with the convenience of free, ad-supported websites. Advertisers held the upper hand with an earlier, voluntary effort called Do Not Track that fizzled.
But the tone of the discussion is different now: Privacy protection is in the ascendant. Problems like Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal raised consumer awareness of privacy. Browser makers like Safari, Brave and Firefox have made privacy a top priority, often intervening on behalf of users regardless of what websites try to do. And regulators are becoming more active.
The organizations are working to formalize the technology as an industry standard also called Global Privacy Control.