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Friday, July 26, 2013

Pinterest Allows Users to Opt-Out of Being Tracked

In Silicon Valley there are hundreds of companies that track people’s habits with the hopes of offering more intrusive advertising. There are, in comparison, very few Valley start-ups that give people the opportunity to opt out of that tracking.

On Friday, Pinterest, which allows users to share photographs and other media on custom “pinboards,” joined the short list of companies that do give people that option.

Pinterest is doing this by enabling the Do Not Track feature in certain Web browsers that allows people to avoid cookies that collect personal information as well as any third-party cookies, including those used for advertising.

In May 2012 Twitter began offering this feature to people who use the social network. But the Do Not Track functionality will work only if a Web site agrees to acknowledge it.

As for people who do not select the Do Not Track feature, Pinterest will be watching over their shoulders more than it has in the past. As Twitter did in 2012, Pinterest introduced a new feature that it says will help surface better content to users.

At the same time it announced the Do Not Track option, the company added a new “board suggestions” component to its site. It will figure out the right type of recommendations for content by tracking the type of Web sites someone has visited that included a “Pin” button.

For example, if you visit a cooking Web site that displays the Pinterest Pin, and then go to Pinterest’s Web site, you will see recommendations for cooking-related pinboards.

In a blog post on the company’s Web site, Pinterest said: “We’re excited to offer everyone a more personal experience, but we also understand if you’re not interested. We respect Do Not Track as an option for people who want to turn off this collection of browsing activity from other sites.”

Privacy groups lauded the company’s decision to allow people to avoid being tracked online.

“It’s good to see some prominent companies come forward and adopt these standards,” said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit privacy group, in a phone interview. “By doing so they are saying ‘we’re going to respect people’s privacy preferences.’”

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, a senior staff technologist with the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit policy group in Washington, said it is important for more companies to follow suit and provide people with the ability to avoid being tracked across the Web.

“Including Twitter, Pinterest is another major first party that has decided to listen to desires of users and offer them this choice,” Mr. Hall said. He noted that the effort behind Do Not Track remains the same: “Provide users simple and usable ways to signal that they don’t want opaque third-parties creating profiles of their online behavior.”

The Do Not Track initiative has recently been embroiled in its own spat of controversy as advertisers feel threatened by the technology. But that hasn’t stopped Pinterest from giving people an option.

“While consensus around the technical specs remains elusive, people are making a choice when they turn on Do Not Track,” said Mike Yang, general counsel of Pinterest, in an e-mail. “We’re going to respect that choice.”