Program Halts Online Advertisement Tracking

Berkman Center fellow creates new browser extension

Christopher Soghoian—a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School—has developed a browser extension that prevents advertising networks from tracking Internet usage habits.

The Google plug-in, entitled Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO), allows users to opt out of 27 advertising networks.

The program prevents advertising companies from using Internet users’ past history to place user-specific advertisements.

The extension had been downloaded by over 1000 people as of Monday night, according to Soghoian.

Soghoian said he aims to raise awareness of Internet privacy issues with his program.

“I’m not silly enough to expect this to be downloaded by grandmothers or non-technical people. I just want to draw attention to the issue,” said Soghoian.

According to Soghoian, Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia is currently lobbying for ad-tracking to become an opt-in program, meaning that Internet users would have to consent to having their activity monitored by advertising companies.

At present, internet privacy restrictions resemble those for telemarketers, for which the Federal Communications Commission has allowed people to opt out of receiving solicitation calls.

“If these programs are as good as these ad companies claim, they should have no program convincing people to opt-in to the programs,” said Soghoian.

“They have the capability and the money. They should prove the programs merits instead of forcing it upon us.”

Soghoian said the program is not yet perfect—with over 40 behavioral advertising companies on the internet, TACO has yet to block all ad tracking.

“Hopefully, that will all be done within the next year,” he said.

Soghoian noted that he has already talked to Microsoft and Mozilla about incorporating TACO into the popular web browsers Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Mark A. Fusunyan ’12 said that since he doesn’t tend to click on online ads, ad-tracking did not pose a “huge concern” to him.

“The program seems like a good idea to put into an existing browser,” said Matthew C. Mulroy ’12.

—Staff writer Michael J. Ding can be reached at ding2@fas.harvard.edu.