15.1.4 Privacy Issues Connected to Accept Headers

Accept request-headers can reveal information about the user to all servers which are accessed. The Accept-Language header in particular can reveal information the user would consider to be of a private nature, because the understanding of particular languages is often strongly correlated to the membership of a particular ethnic group. User agents which offer the option to configure the contents of an Accept-Language header to be sent in every request are strongly encouraged to let the configuration process include a message which makes the user aware of the loss of privacy involved.

An approach that limits the loss of privacy would be for a user agent to omit the sending of Accept-Language headers by default, and to ask the user whether or not to start sending Accept-Language headers to a server if it detects, by looking for any Vary response-header fields generated by the server, that such sending could improve the quality of service.

Elaborate user-customized accept header fields sent in every request, in particular if these include quality values, can be used by servers as relatively reliable and long-lived user identifiers. Such user identifiers would allow content providers to do click-trail tracking, and would allow collaborating content providers to match cross-server click-trails or form submissions of individual users. Note that for many users not behind a proxy, the network address of the host running the user agent will also serve as a long-lived user identifier. In environments where proxies are used to enhance privacy, user agents ought to be conservative in offering accept header configuration options to end users. As an extreme privacy measure, proxies could filter the accept headers in relayed requests. General purpose user agents which provide a high degree of header configurability SHOULD warn users about the loss of privacy which can be involved.