Profiling and tracking of visitors to websites is important to businesses as well as consumers, according to security firm AVG Technologies.
The company has announced the introduction of anti-tracking technology to its consumer anti-virus product, which alerts users they are being tracked and provides tools to prevent data leaving their PC.
But profiling is something businesses should be aware of too, said Yuval Ben-Itzak, chief technology officer at AVG Technologies.
"If a business is doing research related to new product lines, there is really no way of telling who may be collecting that information or how they will use it," he said.
Although AVG's "Do Not Track" feature is launching in its range of consumer products only, the small and medium enterprise (SME) product is likely to follow, Ben-Itzak told Computer Weekly.
"Traditionally, we have introduced new technologies to the consumer product first, and followed up with the SMB product," he said.
Ben-Itzak said AVG believes everyone should know when they are being tracked and have the tools to block it. "We want to play a leading role in making that possible," he said.
The "Do Not Track" capability has been introduced as a free service pack for AVG's consumer security products. It works as a browser plug-in for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox.
Controlling access to your data
While the information websites collect about users is not inherently bad and may be used only to improve online services, in some cases this data is shared with third parties, said Ben-Itzak.
If a business is doing research related to new product lines, there is really no way of telling who may be collecting that information or how they will use it
Yuval Ben-Itzak, AVG Technologies
The "Do Not Track" feature is aimed at raising user awareness of what is going on behind the scenes, he said, to inform them who is collecting what and provide the tools to control that.
The feature also provides links to the privacy policies of websites and links that enable users to opt out of data collection, where this option exists.
A typical application of this data collection is to build a profile of a user and then target that user with personalised ads across different sites.
But in theory, anyone collecting this kind of information could make it available to anyone for any purpose, according to Ben-Itzak: "It is out of the hands of the user."
AVG claimed it is the first security company to enable this kind of "active" anti-tracking feature in a standard anti-virus product and combine in with the "passive" approach introduced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Some browsers provide "passive" anti-tracking mechanisms that enable users to indicate they do not wish to be tracked, but this provides no guarantee that the request will be honoured and does not provide any control over data collection.