Not to be outdone by Mozilla, Google has released a new add-on for its Chrome web browser that allows users to opt-out of online advertising tracking. While Mozilla’s privacy tool is still just a proposal, and involves a new HTTP header, Google’s add-on uses the more practical, cookie-based approach and works today.
The Keep My Opt-Outs add-on works like a very persistant cookie, but this one is working in your favor. The add-on uses Chrome’s internal cookie APIs to set the opt-out flag for each advertising network that participates in the opt-out program created by the ad industry. Not only is it easier than setting those cookies yourself, the add-on ensures that, even if you clear the rest of your cookies, the opt-out cookies remain intact.
While it works, Google’s approach is something of a hack. The add-on intercepts and rewrites cookies, which is not exactly an ideal solution. Still, if you’re a Chrome user and you’ve been looking for a way to stop advertising cookies today, the Keep My Opt-Outs add-on has you covered.
Keep My Opt-Outs also makes a viable alternative to ad-blockers, particularly for those concerned that ad-blocking add-ons are denying their favorite sites much needed revenue. Provided you don’t mind a few advertisements here and there, using the new add-on in conjunction with some smart cookie settings, you can support your favorite sites without forfeiting your privacy. And for those that do use ad blockers, keep in mind that just because the ad is not shown, doesn’t always mean it can’t set cookies.
In the long term, Mozilla’s header-based approach to stopping cookie-based tracking is a better solution, and we expect, if the idea catches on, Chrome and other browsers will support it as well. For those who want something that works today, Google’s new add-on fits the bill.
While the new header is just a proposal at the moment, Mozilla already has some code ready and is considering adding the feature to future versions of Firefox. The current plan is to create a new preferences option that would allow you to opt-out from tracking. Check the box in the preferences and Firefox will start sending the do-not-track header each time you request a new page.
Interestingly, the header Mozilla proposes is not the same as the “X-Do-Not-Track” proposal, which is already implemented in Firefox add-ons NoScript and Adblock Plus. For more details on how Mozilla’s new HTTP header will work, see Mozilla developer Sid Stamm’s blog post.
Like Mozilla’s proposed privacy icons, the problem with the new header is getting third-party ad sites to obey it. Mozilla calls it a “chicken and egg” problem and hopes to jumpstart the idea by including the header in future releases of Firefox. At that point it would be up to third party websites to support the header and, as Mozilla puts it, “honor people’s privacy choices.”
While eliminating the version number from HTML has been part of the WHATWG’s plan from the beginning, the timing of the change is clearly related to the W3C’s attempt to embrace the term “HTML5.” The W3C recently showed off a new HTML5 logo, but the accompanying FAQ used the term HTML5 to cover everything from the actual spec to only tangentially related tools like CSS 3, WOFF and SVG. Many developers saw the W3C’s nebulous use of the term HTML5 as a sign that the term had become, like “AJAX,” just another marketing buzzword.
The W3C has since rewritten its FAQ to clarify and more sharply define just what HTML5 is and is not, but before that happened Ian Hickson, the WHATWG’s editor, announced that the WHATWG was renaming its spec to just HTML. Hickson says the WHATWG was “going to change the name last year but ended up deciding to wait a bit since people still used the term ‘HTML5′ a lot.”
Hickson then makes a not-so-subtle jab at the W3C, saying HTML5 “is now basically being used to mean anything Web-standards-related, so it’s time to move on!”
The W3C has long had a tenuous relationship with the WHATWG. Technically the W3C is the standards body charged with publishing the HTML spec. The WHATWG — a consortium of browser makers — grew out of the W3C’s neglect of HTML and its misguided decision to pursue XHTML 2. Now that both groups are working on the same spec, in theory, their goals are the same. In practice, however, the two groups often butt heads. In other words, just because the WHATWG has decided to abandon the term HTML5, don’t expect it to disappear overnight.
The W3C will continue to work toward “snapshots” that reflect stable milestones of the ever-changing WHATWG version of the spec. For now at least, that means the term HTML5 will be alive and well at the W3C, as the group works through its standard practice of issuing working drafts, holding last calls on changes and finally publishing the spec as a “recommendation.”
Since browser makers have long been well ahead of the W3C when it comes to implementing the latest and greatest parts of the HTML5 spec, they will likely focus on the WHATWG’s HTML spec, which will, like Google’s Chrome browser, follow a “rolling release” schedule.
No doubt the media and marketers will continue to use HTML5 as a buzzword that means far more than just the spec, but even that’s not always a bad thing. There’s no doubt that Apple, Google, the New York Times and everyone else who’s used HTML5 as an analog for the New Shiny has helped HTML5 — and all the other tools it’s come to stand for — gain momentum. As web developer Jeff Croft puts it, “sometimes we just need a word to rally behind.”
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Google’s URL shortening service, goo.gl, has added an API, giving third-party developers a way to integrate the service into their own apps. The new API means Twitter clients and other apps that use short URLs can hook into goo.gl just like they do bit.ly and dozens of other shorteners.
The goo.gl API is, like most Google APIs, a RESTful JSON-based API. There are only three real methods — insert, list and get — but that’s enough info for apps to shorten and expand URLs, as well as fetch history and analytics for shortened links.
If you’d like to play with the new service, the API documentation and developer guide can be found on the Google Labs site. And yes, the API is a labs project and may be subject to change before it graduates into a real web service.