Firefox to begin blocking third-party cookies by default

Firefox is giving people concerned about their online privacy another reason to like the popular browser.

It will begin blocking cookies from third-party advertisers in an upcoming release. While Firefox users can already use the Do Not Track extension to stave them off, the patch will allow the browser to do it by default. That means sites you’ve visited can leave cookies on your computer but ad networks that don’t already have one on your machine can’t.

Cookies are the reason the ads you see online seem to know that you’re thinking about going back to school or in the market for a new car. And you might be surprised how many of them you pick up when you surf the Internet. In fact, the nation’s top websites leave dozens of pieces of tracking technology on visitors’ computers so as to profile people and flash them targeted ads.

Some people think it’s a matter of privacy. What if, for instance, you’re researching something online that you don’t want anyone to know about or associate with you -- things like a medical condition or prickly political issue?

While you can intentionally wipe cookies from your computer through the settings of each browser you use, doing so sometimes doesn’t work to keep your likes, dislikes and demographic information out of the reaches of companies that want to profit from such data.

The Wall Street Journal found that some tracking technology is able to “scan in real time what people are doing on a Web page, then instantly assess location, income, shopping interests and even medical conditions. Some tools surreptitiously re-spawn themselves even after users try to delete them.”

Not only that, many websites don’t honor do-not-track requests .

The website for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation last fall started telling visitors it would not honor their browsers' do-not-track requests as a form of protest against the technology pushed by privacy groups.

"Do Not Track is a detrimental policy that undermines the economic foundation of the Internet," Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the ITIF, wrote in a blog post. "Advertising revenue supports most of the free content, services, and apps available on the Internet."

Behavioral advertising that tracks Web users so as to deliver relevant advertising to them is a service in which "everyone wins," he added. "Ad-supported websites increase their revenue, users receive fewer irrelevant ads and more free content, and advertisers get to be in front of their target audiences."

Some people might agree with him. If online ads are an unavoidable part of using the Internet, you may as well see the ones most relevant to the products and services you’re actually interested in, right?

But for those who hate them -- just because -- there are always tools such as the popular Chrome extension AdBlock that removes ads from your sight. And one called CatBlock will even replace them with pictures of cute kitties as long as you ante up and pay the developer a subscription of at least $5 a month.

There’s also a Firefox add on called AdBlock Plus that nixes them from your screen as well as a good one called Ghostery, which will really open up your eyes to how much companies are trying to track you online -- it lets you see in real time who’s trying to do it and blocks them.

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