More Data Use Icons on The Way


Yesterday, Firefox revealed that one of the new features that will appear in Firefox 4 will be an icon that displays when the browser passes a browser’s physical location to a Web site.

Firefox already has a feature that allows sites to ask users for permission to share location, which it derives by scanning local wireless access points. (A number of companies, such as Skyhook, drive the streets, logging the locations of access points they detect. Press coverage of Google’s logging of this data while driving and mapping streets kicked off privacy concerns recently in Germany). Your computer or cellphone can use this technique to supplement or in place of GPS capability. Firefox 4 will now display an icon in the browser address bar, to indicate to users that a website is accessing their geolocation data


Note that this is unrelated to the ability of Web sites to estimate a users location based on the IP address transmitted in browser requests.

We like this feature, as it is a good transparency and control measure. We have promoted the use of the behavioral symbol we developed, and have applauded the use of location symbols by the ATT-Apple iPhone and by Verizon. Too many competing icons? Maybe, but the path to standardization takes some time. Right now, getting privacy information out of privacy policies and treating the data use as a feature that users can understand is major progress. Companies competing to communicate well to users about data leads to real progress on transparency and control!