Privacy push could banish some annoying website popups and online tracking

Companies want to know what you do online.

Angela Lang/CNET

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.

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.

The Global Privacy Control project, with support from publishers like The New York Times and Washington Post and browser makers Brave and Mozilla, 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.

Other Global Privacy Control partners include search engine DuckDuckGo, Tumblr and WordPress publisher Automattic and online rights advocate Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The organizations are working to formalize the technology as an industry standard also called Global Privacy Control.

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