Network Working Group                                          A. Cooper
Internet-Draft                         Center for Democracy & Technology
Intended status: Informational                             H. Tschofenig
Expires: September 8, 2011                        Nokia Siemens Networks
                                                           March 7, 2011

       Overview of Universal Opt-Out Mechanisms for Web Tracking


   Web servers and the entities that operate them have long had the
   ability to track user agents as they access resources hosted across
   different web domains.  Concern over the privacy implications of such
   tracking has prompted recent work on a number of solutions that aim
   to provide a universal opt-out mechanism for web tracking that can be
   effectuated through a simple binary choice presented to users.

   This document provides an overview of the following mechanisms:
   permanent opt-out cookies, cookie blocking, domain blocking, a "Do
   Not Track" (DNT) HTTP header, and a Do Not Track Document Object
   Model (DOM) property.  The aim of this document is to describe each
   approach, the pros and cons of each, and areas where standardization
   may be necessary should each approach be further pursued, without
   making recommendations about which approach or approaches should be

Status of this Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
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   This Internet-Draft will expire on September 8, 2011.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2011 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the

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   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
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   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
     1.1.  History of Opt-Out Cookies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     1.2.  Drawbacks of Opt-Out Cookies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     1.3.  New Tracking Opt-Out Mechanisms  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   2.  Terminology: First Party vs. Third Party . . . . . . . . . . .  6
   3.  Tracking Opt-Out Mechanisms  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     3.1.  Permanent Opt-Out Cookies  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     3.2.  Cookie Blocking  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     3.3.  Domain Blocking  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     3.4.  Do Not Track HTTP Header . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
     3.5.  Do Not Track DOM Property  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
   4.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
   5.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   6.  Acknowledgments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   7.  Informational References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
   Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

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1.  Introduction

   The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is a generic and stateless
   application-level protocol for distributed collaborative hypermedia
   information systems.  The stateless nature of the HTTP protocol is a
   useful property for scalability and for robustness.  However, for
   more complex web sites it is often important to carry state
   information between different web pages and to offer reidentification
   of previous visitors for usability reasons.  This has lead web
   application developers to invent mechanisms for maintaining state
   information about end user interactions.  In fact, one mechanism -
   the cookie (originally specified in [RFC2109] and now being revised
   by [I-D.ietf-httpstate-cookie]) - has been added to HTTP itself.
   Since cookies come with limitations, such as the number of cookies
   that are allowed to be stored per domain, the size of an individual
   cookie, and the total number of cookies that can be stored, it is not
   the only state management concept used by developers.  Other
   mechanisms include combinations of server-side databases, hidden form
   fields, URL query parameters, extensions to the CGI model, storage
   capabilities offered by additional plug-ins (such as Adobe Flash and
   Microsoft Silverlight), HTML5 web storage, and special browser
   extensions (such as Internet Explorer's userdata behavior).

   State created by the web server allows the server to uniquely
   identify individual user agents, providing a mechanism to correlate
   information about the activity of a single user agent across requests
   for different resources.  Many of today's web sites cause user agents
   to fetch resources from a large number of other sites which may also
   make use of state management techniques.

   State information, such as cookie state stored within the browser, is
   not accessible to every site due to user agent security policies
   (which may include the same-origin policy
   [] and its variations), but sharing of
   information between web sites visited by a single user can take many
   different forms.  Data may be shared between two sites that both
   cause requests to the same third site, by sites that share DNS CNAME
   records or authoritative DNS servers, or between sites that share
   identifying URLs or referer headers [Krishnamurthy06]
   [Krishnamurthy07].  These techniques, together with uses of cookies,
   Javascript, Flash, and other mechanisms for data aggregation
   purposes, have become pervasive among popular web sites
   [Krishnamurthy09], allowing users to be tracked in a multitude of

   Concern over the privacy implications of this tracking has prompted
   recent work on a number of different solutions that aim to provide a
   universal opt-out mechanism for web tracking that can be effectuated

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   through a simple binary choice presented to users.  This document
   provides an overview of several such mechanisms.

1.1.  History of Opt-Out Cookies

   Web tracking was first widely employed by "third-party" advertising
   networks, which locate their advertising resources at their own
   domains (not at the "first-party" domains to which user agents
   typically issue requests at the direction of users).  User agent
   requests for top-level documents from many separate first-party
   domains often generate requests for resources that are all located at
   the same third-party ad network domain, providing the ad network with
   the ability to build a profile of the first-party resources accessed
   by the user agent.  Ad networks then use these profiles to
   individually tailor ads served to a particular user agent.  This
   practice is known as "behavioral advertising."

   Concern over the privacy implications of the tracking involved in
   behavioral advertising gave rise in 1999 to the Network Advertising
   Initiative (NAI), a consortium of online advertising companies
   [NAI-History].  Shortly after its formation, the NAI developed a set
   of guidelines that its member companies were bound to follow.  Among
   these guidelines was a requirement that the ad companies provide web
   users with the ability to opt out of ad targeting [NAI-Guidelines].

   The primary mechanism adopted for effectuating the opt out was an
   "opt-out cookie": an HTTP cookie that stores the user's preference to
   be opted out of ad targeting.  Under the guidelines, NAI members
   could provide users with links to set their opt-out cookies from
   their own web sites and from a central site [NAI-Registry].  A newer
   central site now provides users with access to the opt-out cookies
   for companies that are members of a number of other advertising trade
   associations in addition to the NAI, all of which are operating under
   the banner of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) [DAA10].

1.2.  Drawbacks of Opt-Out Cookies

   Several drawbacks to the opt-out cookie approach have been identified
   over time.  Storing the user's preference in a cookie is problematic
   because users are often encouraged to delete their cookies in order
   to protect their privacy.  If they follow this advice, they delete
   their opt-out cookies as well, and ad targeting resumes.

   Because HTTP cookies are typically only returned to the origin server
   that set them [I-D.ietf-httpstate-cookie], using cookies to control
   user preferences requires that users obtain individual opt-out
   cookies for each tracking domain.  With current upper estimates for
   the number of tracking domains reaching over 300

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   [PrivacyChoice-Tracker-Index], this creates a complex cookie
   management task for users.

   Not all of these tracking domains are used for behavioral
   advertising.  Tracking -- in the generic sense of correlating a
   single user agent's requests across multiple domains -- is used for a
   number of other purposes, including web analytics, web site
   personalization, ad reporting (e.g., calculating the number of ad
   views or clicks), market research, fraud detection, and federated
   authentication.  Like behavioral advertising, some of these services
   (web analytics, ad reporting, some market research services) use
   cookies as their primary means of identifying user agents and could
   therefore make use of opt-out cookies to store user preferences.  But
   recent investigations have indicated that only about half of the 300
   or so tracking domains offer opt-out cookies [Brock11].  Meanwhile,
   the DAA site offers the opt-out cookies of only about 60 companies.

   For some of the other tracking purposes, using an opt-out cookie
   would make little sense.  For example, a site or service that
   requires users to authenticate to obtain access to a personal profile
   might find it more reasonable to store the user's opt-out choice on a
   back-end system as part of the user's profile.  Since cookies were
   designed to overcome the statelessness of web transactions, any site
   or service that persists state about individual users in some non-
   cookie-based storage can likely find a more streamlined way to store
   individual opt-out preferences than by using opt-out cookies.

   Opt-out cookies also do not control tracking that makes use of other
   technologies.  Flash cookies, HTML5 web storage, browser
   fingerprinting, the CSS history leak, and a number of other non-HTTP-
   cookie mechanisms can be used to track web activity across domains

1.3.  New Tracking Opt-Out Mechanisms

   For all of these reasons, a number of new solutions have been
   proposed to improve upon the status quo for opting out of web
   tracking.  While these mechanisms differ in their implementations,
   they share a similar goal: to provide a universal opt-out for web
   tracking that can be effectuated through a simple binary choice
   presented to users (this will be referred to hereafter as the "DNT
   goal").  This document provides an overview of the following

   o  Permanent opt-out cookies

   o  Cookie blocking

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   o  Domain blocking

   o  Do Not Track HTTP header

   o  Do Not Track Document Object Model (DOM) property

   The aim is to generally describe each approach, the pros and cons of
   each, and areas where standardization may be necessary should each
   approach be further pursued.  This document does not recommend any
   particular solution or set of solutions.  This is very much a first
   draft; feedback and insights into the various approaches are most

2.  Terminology: First Party vs. Third Party

   There are a number of web-related terms that have taken on special
   meaning within discussions about web tracking.  Some of these
   meanings may differ from the common understanding of the same terms
   in the IETF context.

   In the context of web tracking, a "domain" usually refers to the
   portion of a web resource's host name comprised of the second-level
   domain and top-level domain.  For example, the domain corresponding
   to would be  The term
   "subdomain" is often used to describe a fully qualified domain name
   (FQDN).  For example, the URI contains the

   A "first-party domain" usually refers to the domain of a web site to
   which a user agent directs an explicit request on behalf of a user.
   A "third-party domain" usually refers to the domain of a web resource
   that a user agent requests as a result of a first-party request.  A
   third-party resource is hosted at a different domain from the first-
   party domain that triggers the third-party request.  As an example,
   if a user directs his user agent to and as a
   result the user agent also makes a request to, is
   the first-party domain and is the third-party domain.

   This distinction between first-party and third-party domains is in
   part a result of long-standing user agent practices for handling HTTP
   cookies.  Typically, HTTP cookies are returned only to the origin
   server that set them [I-D.ietf-httpstate-cookie].  Cookies set from
   first-party domains may not be read by third-party domains and vice
   versa.  In some cases, cookies set from first-party domains that
   contain subdomains are accessible by all subdomains of the first-
   party domain.  The distinction between first-party domains and third-
   party domains is reflected in browser-based cookie controls: major

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   web browsers all offer distinct first-party cookie settings and
   third-party cookie settings.

   However, a user's perception or expectation of the difference between
   a "first party" and a "third party" may not fall neatly within the
   distinction between "first-party domain" and "third-party domain."
   Consider Example Company, which hosts its web site at and
   contracts with an analytics service provider, Count Company.  The
   analytics service is architected such that it operates from, a subdomain.  When a user visits,
   a request is triggered to, and data about the
   user's visit is returned to to be processed by
   Count Company.  Although all of these exchanges would be between the
   user agent and first-party domains, the user may only expect to be
   sending data to Example Company (the "first party"), not to Count
   Company (the "third party").

   Conversely, consider that Example Company runs a social network,
   Example Social, hosted at, and a photo-sharing
   service, Example Photos, hosted at  Example Social
   might have a feature that allows users to share their photos from
   Example Photo on their profiles hosted at  In this
   case, a user agent that requests a resource hosted at would also automatically request and receive
   content hosted at  While user agents might
   consider to be a third-party domain, the user might
   consider all the content they receive to be coming from a single
   first party, Example Company.

   It has been suggested that this distinction between first parties and
   third parties from the user expectation perspective can be
   approximated by distinguishing domains based on their Public Suffixes
   [Mozilla] plus one additional domain label ("PS+1")

   In the remainder of this document, "first-party domain" and "third-
   party domain" will be used to describe the typical distinction used
   by web browsers between the two types of cookies; the terms "first
   party" and "third party" will be used when the user expectation
   perspective is more appropriate.

   A summary of the terminology used in the document (some of which is
   drawn from [I-D.mayer-do-not-track]) is as follows:

   o  Domain: The portion of a web resource's host name comprised of the
      second-level domain and top-level domain.

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   o  DNT goal: To provide a universal opt-out for web tracking that can
      be effectuated through a simple binary choice presented to users.

   o  First party: A functional entity with which a user reasonably
      expects to exchange data.

   o  First-party domain: The domain of a web site to which a user agent
      directs an explicit request on behalf of a user.

   o  Third party: A functional entity that a user does not reasonably
      expect to receive the user's data.

   o  Third-party domain: The domain of a web resource that a user agent
      requests as a result of a first-party request.

3.  Tracking Opt-Out Mechanisms

   The mechanisms described in this section are at various stages of
   development, deployment, and standardization.  The mechanisms are not
   necessarily mutually exclusive; it is possible that a combination of
   approaches could be employed to fulfill different aspects of opt-out
   functionality, although the mechanics of such combinations are out of
   scope for this document.  It is also possible that some of the
   mechanisms or similar concepts could be adapted to address tracking
   outside of the web context -- for example, within mobile applications
   or email applications.  These other contexts are likewise out of

   Much of the privacy concern about web tracking has focused on
   tracking conducted by third parties because it often occurs without
   the knowledge of users and is performed by companies with which users
   may have no relationship.  However, tracking may also be performed by
   first parties.  For example, first parties may track users in order
   to provide personalized or customized content, or they may share
   information about user agent requests with third parties who then
   aggregate that information across multiple first parties.  While the
   traditional opt-out cookie approach does not address first-party
   tracking, some of the newer mechanisms could be implemented in a way
   so as to address first-party tracking.  A discussion of the extent to
   which each of the mechanisms addresses first-party tracking is
   included in the sections below.

3.1.  Permanent Opt-Out Cookies

   A number of web browser extentions exist to make opt-out cookies
   permanent: Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO) for Firefox and
   Google Chrome [Abine11], Keep My Opt-Outs (KMOO) for Chrome

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   [Google11], and Keep MORE Opt-Outs, developed by PrivacyChoice
   [PrivacyChoice11].  These extensions first install the opt-out
   cookies for a number of ad companies -- all NAI members for KMOO and
   larger lists of companies for the other two extensions.  If the user
   already has uniquely identifying cookies for any domains on the list,
   those cookies are deleted.  Thereafter, the extensions wait for a
   cookie change event and preserve the opt-out cookies even when a user
   clears his or her cookies.

   The main benefit of this approach is that it does not require any
   changes on the server side.  Servers used to track user agents can
   continue to operate as they have since opt-out cookies were first
   introduced.  This approach can also apply to tracking conducted for
   many different purposes or to tracking from first-party domains --
   any domain that offers an opt-out cookie could be included in the
   list of domains for which the browser extension installs an opt-out
   cookie.  Keep MORE Opt-Outs, for example, takes this approach.

   While this approach overcomes one of the limitations of opt-out
   cookies -- their lack of persistence -- it still requires managing
   potentially hundreds of opt-out cookies and ensuring that the list of
   precisely which opt-out cookies to retain remains up-to-date even as
   entities that track reconfigure their own cookie-setting practices on
   the server side.  This may amount to a complex managerial task for
   the browser extension developer.  Furthermore, for all entities that
   conduct tracking but do not offer an opt-out cookie -- of which there
   are potentially hundreds -- this approach will not work for those
   entities' domains.

   Most opt-out cookies do not contain unique user agent identifiers, so
   installing a domain's opt-out cookie and deleting other uniquely
   identifying cookies from that domain will generally prevent that
   domain from continuing to track the user agent via HTTP cookies
   (while also providing a way for users to verify that they have been
   opted out).  However, in general it does not prevent tracking via
   other means such as Flash cookies or HTML5 web storage.

   No existing implementations of this approach exist natively in user
   agents; they are all currently browser extensions that require user-
   initiated installation.  If this approach were to be pursued further,
   there may be a need to specify a standard way of representing the
   list of opt-out cookies that a particular user agent or extension
   makes permanent and/or the rules for processing the list (similar to
   what may be required to standardize block lists, see Section 3.3).

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3.2.  Cookie Blocking

   Since much web tracking has historically occurred via HTTP cookies,
   it has been suggested that providing users with simple settings to
   turn cookie blocking on and off may serve the purpose of a universal,
   binary tracking opt-out choice.  All of the major web browsers offer
   blanket settings for blocking all third-party cookies.  However,
   current implementations differ in their functionality; for example,
   in some browsers, blocking third-party cookies prevents third-party
   cookies that the user had previously downloaded from being read,
   whereas in other cases pre-existing third-party cookies can continue
   to be read and the block merely prevents new third-party cookies from
   being set on a going-forward basis.  This kind of variation reflects
   different evaluations of the trade-off between the benefits of more
   comprehensive blocking and the potential for cookie blocking to alter
   or break the functionality of certain web sites.

   The main advantages of the cookie-blocking approach are that it
   targets what is still the most common means of tracking (HTTP
   cookies) and it is already built into the most widely used web
   browsers.  However, because of the variations across the browsers,
   some implementations -- particularly those that continue to allow
   some third-party cookie reading or setting even after users have
   affirmatively chosen to block third-party cookies -- may not match
   users' expectations of what a universal tracking opt-out solution
   should accomplish.

   On the other hand, complete third-party cookie blocking does have the
   potential to inhibit the functionality of some web sites (including
   functionality unrelated to tracking).  Some sites may even prevent
   users from accessing the sites unless they re-enable third-party
   cookies.  This kind of behavior serves as a disincentive to using
   existing cookie-blocking settings as a means to achieve the DNT goal.

   When it prevents uniquely identifying third-party cookies from being
   read, cookie blocking can be an effective and user-verifiable tool
   for opting users out of tracking of all kinds.  In addition to third-
   party cookie blocking, most browsers also provide a setting to block
   all first-party cookies, but because use of this setting breaks
   significant amounts of web functionality, it is not a reasonable
   mechanism for opting out of tracking from first-party domains.  Nor
   does cookie blocking have any effect on tracking that occurs via
   other means.

3.3.  Domain Blocking

   Domain blocking requires the user agent to maintain a list of domains
   to block and to block requests that the user agent would otherwise

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   make to domains on the list.  If the list is comprised of domains
   from which tracking occurs, domain blocking prevents tracking by
   preventing the user agent from communicating with those domains.
   Domain blocking has been used for years to block web content of many
   different kinds, including advertising (see, for example, the AdBlock
   Plus extension for Firefox and Chrome [AdBlock-Plus]).  The Tracking
   Protection feature in Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 makes use of
   third-party domain blocking (among other functionality)
   [Microsoft10].  Many implementations of domain blocking have the
   ability to periodically update their block lists (by contacting some
   authoritative source) to stay up-to-date with server reconfigurations
   and other changes.

   Although giving users a simple binary choice about blocking a list of
   domains is likely sufficient to achieve the DNT goal, the domain
   blocking approach can also include more granular options that give
   users finer-grained control over their web communications.  Existing
   implementations allow blocking at the level of a subdomain, path or
   file, for example.  They also combine domain blocking with domain
   whitelisting so that certain domains are kept affirmatively

   Domain blocking is a powerful solution because it entirely prevents
   tracking from occuring via any mechanism that originates with a web
   server request, including cookie setting, other HTTP-header-based
   mechanisms, and the transmission of scripts, images or other files
   that trigger tracking.  Domain blocking is also verifiable in that
   observing requests issued by the user agent will demonstrate that
   domains on the list are not being accessed.

   However, to an even greater extent than cookie blocking, domain
   blocking may cause site functionality to break.  For domains that
   conduct tracking and serve content from the same domain, blocking
   will prevent both the tracking and the content delivery, even if the
   user desires to opt out of the tracking without losing access to the
   content or some version of the content.  Domain operators that want
   to be able to continue serving content and tracking user agents in
   the face of pervasive domain blocking would need to conduct these
   activities from separate domains (as was envisioned in the original
   proposal for behavioral advertising domain blocking [CDT07]), keeping
   only the tracking domain on the block lists.  In some cases this
   change could require significant costs in terms of server
   reconfiguration.  Moreover, domain operators whose domains are placed
   on block lists against their will could seek to avoid being blocked
   by switching domains (possibly on a recurring basis to circumvent
   list updates).  And as with cookie blocking, first-party domains that
   detect domain blocking may require users to turn domain blocking off
   before providing access to first-party content.

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   Domain blocking requires that the list of domains to block be kept
   up-to-date, which may require some management overhead.  Domain
   blocking cannot be used to block first-party tracking since blocking
   first-party domain requests would prevent users from accessing
   content that they explicitly wished to access.

   The IE 9 Tracking Protection feature allows for block lists to be
   independently created according to a specified file format.  The
   format and the rules for processing block list entries have been
   submitted to the W3C for potential standardization [Zeigler11].
   AdBlock Plus has its own filter list format [AdBlock-Plus-Filters].
   Ultimately, standardization of the block list format and processing
   rules is likely to be required if the goal is for multiple user
   agents to be able to use the same independently created block lists.

3.4.  Do Not Track HTTP Header

   The proposed Do Not Track HTTP header is a user agent feature that
   appends a new header to HTTP requests that expresses the user's
   preference not to be tracked.  In existing header implementations,
   the header value is binary: 1 means no tracking and 0 means tracking
   is permissible.  Users can control whether the header is sent through
   a simple browser preference.  A DNT header has been implemented in
   the current Firefox beta [Stamm] and in a number of browser
   extensions [Soghoian][Palant11][NoScript].  Depending on the user
   agent's policy, the header could be appended to every web request, or
   to a subset of requests (for example, only third-party domain
   requests, or all requests aside from those for which the user has
   explicitly chosen to permit tracking).

   Unlike the mechanisms already discussed, the DNT header does not
   provide a technical means of enforcing any sort of ban on tracking.
   Cookies and other tracking mechanisms would still be operational.
   Thus the presence of the header does not run the risk of directly
   interfering with existing web site functionality (as cookie or domain
   blocking might).

   Rather, the header provides a statement of the user's preference to
   the domains to which the user agent makes requests.  This creates the
   possibility for the header to provide much broader-based protection
   against tracking than the other mechanisms if the majority of
   tracking entities abide by it.  Every tracking entity that receives
   the header would be able to act on it, including first parties,
   entities that use tracking for purposes other than behavioral
   advertising, and entities that track users via mechanisms other than
   HTTP cookies.

   The lack of a technical enforcement mechanism creates a need to

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   develop some common understanding of what "tracking" means, how
   domain operators should behave when they receive the header, and to
   whom the header applies.  Should first parties that share tracking
   data with third parties be required to abide by the header?  Should
   first parties and third parties be distinguished by domain name or by
   user expectation?  Should tracking for certain purposes (fraud
   detection or ad reporting, for example) be permitted regardless of
   whether the header is present?  Should the header affect the extent
   to which web request data is retained on the server side?  There are
   a number of efforts underway to try to develop some consensus about
   the answers to these and other questions in a way that balances the
   realities of web server operation, legitimate uses of web request
   data, and users' desire for privacy protection
   [Mayer][CDT11][Eckersley11].  One of these efforts is seeking to
   define the semantics and intended usage of the header in the context
   of its potential standardization at the IETF
   [I-D.mayer-do-not-track].  How these questions are answered will
   determine the extent to which server-side reconfiguration is
   necessary for entities that wish to honor the header.

   Until some sort of consensus is reached about the semantics and usage
   of the header on the server side, the level of protection against
   tracking that the header affords will remain uncertain.  Even if a
   common semantic were established, the header would still require
   users to trust that their web request data, including unique
   identifiers sent via cookies or other means, would not be used for
   tracking whenever the header is present.  This sort of guarantee may
   require enforcement or intervention from governmental privacy
   authorities in order to truly be effective.

   As with cookie blocking, some sites that detect the header may
   prevent users from accessing their content, or they may request that
   users turn the header off before access is granted.  If the header is
   deployed without granular user control over the sites to which it is
   sent, this kind of server-side reaction to the header could
   incentivize users to simply turn the header off entirely, because
   they would have no way to send the header to some sites but not
   others.  Regardless of whether controls exist or not, having
   individual sites that ignore the header or that ask users to disable
   it frustrates the DNT goal of having a universal, binary opt-out

   For a DNT header to be interoperable across web sites and user
   agents, it would need to be defined according to the syntax specified
   in the HTTP protocol specification [RFC2616] and registered according
   to the procedures in RFC 3864 [RFC3864].  This path is currently
   being pursued in [I-D.mayer-do-not-track].  Standardization of the
   header has also been proposed to the W3C [Zeigler11].

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3.5.  Do Not Track DOM Property

   In a similar vein to the DNT header, the Document Object Model (DOM)
   could be extended to include a property that expresses the user's
   preference with respect to tracking.  Users could set the value of
   the property through a simple browser preference, causing the
   property to be set for all documents (or for documents from some
   subset of domains, with exceptions specified by the user).  Client-
   side code could query the property before taking tracking-related

   The DOM property has similar advantages and disadvantages as the
   header.  Its mere deployment need not interfere with any existing web
   functionality.  It has the potential to be accessed and respected by
   first parties and trackers of all kinds, although its applicability
   is limited to sites architected to have access to the DOM -- tracking
   that occurs entirely on the server side will be unaffected by the
   property.  Responding to the presence of the property will require
   some shared understanding of the property's semantics.  Its presence
   may lead sites to request that users allow tracking in order to
   access the desired content.

   One way in which the property differs from the header is that it may
   reduce the number of server calls made on behalf of users who opt out
   of tracking.  This could be the case if detection of the property
   causes client-side code not to make requests to tracking domains that
   otherwise would have been made.  This lack of requests issued on
   behalf of users who have opted out could provide a limited means for
   users to verify that their preference is being honored -- if users
   who set the property to the "no tracking" setting observe fewer or
   different server calls than users who allow tracking, this may
   provide some proof that sites are honoring the property, although
   this would likely need to be evaluated on a site-by-site basis since
   sites may need to implement their responses to the property

   As with the header, for the DOM property to be interoperable, its
   syntax and semantics would need to be standardized.  A DNT DOM
   property has been proposed to the W3C for standardization [Zeigler11]

4.  Security Considerations

   This document describes various mechanisms that allow users to opt-
   out of web tracking.  Thus one way to frame the security goal of
   these solutions is the prevention of information leakage to those
   doing the tracking, particularly third parties.  The adversary from a
   user agent point of view can therefore be considered to be any third

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   party that conducts tracking.

   Because any information that is shared with a third party could
   potentially be used to identify a user agent, altogether preventing
   communication with third-party domains when a user contacts a first-
   party domain is perhaps the most intuitive way to prevent information
   leakage to third parties.  For example, a user agent might be
   configured to serve content only from when a user enters in the browser address bar.  However, this
   approach of preventing all third-party communications is unrealistic
   since today's web sites often combine content aggregated from many
   other sites.  Hence the task of preventing third-party tracking is
   more complicated.  To address this complexity, the mechanisms
   discussed in this draft are either more subtle or more granular (or
   both) than all-out blocking of third parties, and they all face a
   number of security challenges.

   Regardless of whether any opt-out mechanism is used, first parties
   always have the ability to convey information related to tracking to
   third parties through an out-of-band or back-end channel.  Since user
   agents cannot observe these exchanges, there is little they can do to
   prevent them.

   The same origin policy treats subdomains as belonging to the first-
   party domain.  However, a first party can configure its DNS servers
   in a way that a DNS CNAME alias points to a server belonging to
   another organization.  With appropriate cookie settings by the first
   party, it is possible for the third party to obtain access to all
   cookies.  Permanent opt-out cookies, cookie blocking, and domain
   blocking are not able to prevent this data sharing if they are
   configured to respect the usual same origin policy.  A DNT header or
   DOM property may prevent this sharing if the first party respects the
   user's preference as signaled by the header or property.

   All techniques that block direct communication to specific third
   party sites (via a block list mechanism) suffer from the generic
   limitations of blacklisting mechanisms.  Third parties that want to
   avoid being blocked will regularly change their domains, attempt to
   require users to exert additional effort in order to manage
   blacklists, or relay communication through intermediaries to
   obfuscate the identification of their domains.  To emphasize the
   negative impact on user experiences that blacklisting can have, some
   third parties may bundle extra functionality onto the same (blocked)
   domain, rendering it inaccessible to those using block lists.

   The online management of block lists raises questions about who
   provides the lists, how easy they are for users to download or
   reconfigure, which list is used by default, what security mechanisms

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   control the manipulation of the lists, and what conflict resolution
   mechanism is offered when black and white lists are combined.  The
   answers to these questions depend heavily on the technology chosen
   for managing the lists.  Failing to secure the lists against
   manipulation could allow information to be leaked to third parties
   against the user's wishes.

   Mechanisms that convey user preferences in a header or as a DOM
   property will require the receiving party to adhere to the
   instructions.  As with the block listing mechanisms, implementation
   details pertaining to the default settings in browsers, the ease of
   changing the settings, and whether the settings can be manipulated
   will affect the security of the settings themselves.

   Some web proxies, gateways, and other intermediaries are known to
   strip certain HTTP headers (the Referer header, for example) or only
   allow a strict set of HTTP headers to pass through.  While third-
   party companies are unlikely to have the incentive to cooperate with
   these intermediaries for the explicit purpose of removing or
   modifying the DNT header, such removal would result in the user's
   preference not being expressed to receiving servers.  Scripts could
   be used to modify or disable the DNT header or DOM property within
   the browser to achieve the same effect, but these are fairly easy to
   detect and therefore unlikely to be abused by third parties that want
   to conduct tracking against the user's will.  Given that third
   parties can simply ignore the user's preference if they want to
   conduct tracking under the DNT header or DOM property scenarios,
   these attacks are unlikely to be used.

5.  IANA Considerations

   This document makes no requests of IANA.

6.  Acknowledgments

   The authors would like to thank Michael Hanson for inspiring the work
   on this draft and Justin Brookman, Sue Glueck, and Erica Newland for
   their reviews.

7.  Informational References

   [Abine11]  Abine, "Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO)",  http
              targeted-advertising-cookie-op/, February 2011.

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              AdBlock Plus, "AdBlock Plus",

              AdBlock Plus, "Writing Adblock Plus filters",

   [Baron10]  Baron, D., "Preventing attacks on a user's history through
              CSS :visited selectors",
     , April 2010.

   [Brock11]  Brock, J., "Keep MORE Opt Outs",  http://
              January 2011.

   [CDT07]    Cooper, A., "Dispelling "Do Not Track" Myths",  http://
              dispelling-do-not-track-myths, October 2007.

   [CDT11]    Center for Democracy & Technology, "What Does "Do Not
              Track" Mean? A Scoping Proposal from the Center for
              Democracy & Technology",

   [DAA10]    Digital Advertising Alliance, "Opt Out from Online
              Behavioral Advertising",
     , 2010.

   [EFF]      Electronic Frontier Foundation, "Panopticlick",

              Eckersley, P., "What Does the "Track" in "Do Not Track"

              Google, "Keep My Opt-Outs",
              January 2011.

              Barth, A., "Principles of the Same-Origin Policy",
              draft-abarth-principles-of-origin-00 (work in progress),
              February 2011.

              Barth, A., "HTTP State Management Mechanism",

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              draft-ietf-httpstate-cookie-23 (work in progress),
              March 2011.

              Mayer, J., Narayanan, A., and S. Stamm, "Do Not Track: A
              Universal Third-Party Web Tracking Opt Out,
              draft-mayer-do-not-track-00 (work in progress)",
              March 2011.

              Kamkar, S., "Evercookie",,
              September 2010.

              Krishnamurthy, B. and C. Wills, "Generating a privacy
              footprint on the Internet. In Proceedings of the ACM
              SIGCOMM Internet Measurement Conference, pages 65-70, Rio
              de Janeiro, Brazil, October 2006",

              Krishnamurthy, B., Malandrino, D., and C. Wills,
              "Measuring privacy loss and the impact of privacy
              protection in web browsing. In Proceedings of the
              Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security, pages 52-63,
              Pittsburgh, PA USA, July 2007. ACM International
              Conference Proceedings Series.",

              Krishnamurthy, B. and C. Wills, "Privacy diffusion on the
              web: A longitudinal perspective. In Proceedings of the
              World Wide Web Conference, pages 541-550, Madrid, Spain,
              April 2009",

   [Mayer]    Mayer, J. and A. Narayanan, "Do Not Track: Universal Web
              Tracking Opt-Out",

              Microsoft, "IE9 and Privacy: Introducing Tracking
              December 2010.

   [Mozilla]  Mozilla Foundation, "Public Suffix List",

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              Network Advertising Initiative, "Network Advertising
              Initiative Self-Regulatory Principles for Online
              Preference Marketing by Network Advertisers",
              July 2000.

              Network Advertising Initiative, "Network Advertising
              Initiative History",

              Network Advertising Initiative, "Network Advertising
              Initiative Opt-Out Registry",

              Maone, G., "X-Do-Not-Track? DNT, c'est plus facile...",  h

              Palant, W., "Adblock Plus and (a little) more: Updated
              roadmap (Adblock Plus 1.3.5)",
              blog/updated-roadmap-adblock-plus-135, February 2011.

              PrivacyChoice, "PrivacyChoice Tracker Index",

              PrivacyChoice, "Keep MORE Opt-Outs",  https://
              eoibfeagdaaoimfpfalgbmmegagdconp, January 2011.

   [RFC2109]  Kristol, D. and L. Montulli, "HTTP State Management
              Mechanism", RFC 2109, February 1997.

   [RFC2616]  Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H.,
              Masinter, L., Leach, P., and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext
              Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.

   [RFC3864]  Klyne, G., Nottingham, M., and J. Mogul, "Registration
              Procedures for Message Header Fields", BCP 90, RFC 3864,
              September 2004.


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              Soghoian, C. and S. Stamm, "Universal Behavioral
              Advertising Opt-Out",

   [Stamm]    Stamm, S., "Implement do-not-track HTTP header to express
              user intent to halt tracking across site",

              Zeigler, A., Bateman, A., and E. Graff, "Web Tracking
              Protection: W3C Member Submission 24 February 2011",
              February 2011.

Authors' Addresses

   Alissa Cooper
   Center for Democracy & Technology
   1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 1100
   Washington, DC  20006


   Hannes Tschofenig
   Nokia Siemens Networks


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