Internet-Draft Web Feed Privacy October 2022
Nottingham Expires 22 April 2023 [Page]
Network Working Group
Intended Status:
Best Current Practice
M. Nottingham

Privacy Considerations for Web Feed Readers


This specification collects privacy-enhancing guidelines for Web feed readers.

About This Document

This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

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Note to Readers

This draft is a quick straw-man; it is intended to assess implementer and community interest in the topic, not to state concrete requirements (yet). Feedback much appreciated.

Status of This Memo

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 22 April 2023.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Many web sites offer a feed of updates to their content, using [ATOM] or [RSS]. While they are consumed in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes, web feeds are often presented to users by dedicated software, colloquially known as a "feed reader."

Feed readers use HTML and HTTP, and can be considered as part of the web, but one that is distinct from web browsers. Unlike browsers, feed readers do not easily facilitiate cross-site tracking or behavioural advertising, because their capabilities are more limited, thereby establishing an alternative, more privacy-respecting web platform.

At the same time, browsers are protecting privacy in increasingly sophisticated ways; for example, by taking steps to prevent active fingerprinting [FINGERPRINTING].

This specification seeks to codify these privacy-enhancing distinctions while incorporating browser's privacy advances by offering a definition for "feed reader" in Section 2, providing guidelines for how they make requests in Section 3, and providing guidelines for their handling of content in Section 4.

1.1. Notational Conventions

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

2. Feed Readers

A feed reader acts as a user agent (per [HTTP]) that consumes and presents information from documents in [ATOM], [RSS], and/or similar formats to users.

A feed reader might be local software program on a host that the user controls, or a remote service that they access over the Internet, such as through a web browser. Typically, a feed reader will allow the user to subscribe to URIs that identify feeds, and regularly poll those URIs for new content. When a feed entry has already been seen, a reader might keep this state.

Feed readers make HTTP requests and parse, render and display HTML content (including some embedded content). Users can also follow links from content in a feed reader.

3. Making Feed Requests

When a feed reader makes a request for a feed document, privacy can be impacted in several ways. This section contains guidelines for such requests; note that they do not apply to requests for embedded content and user-initiated navigation to links in content (see Section 4).

3.1. Encryption

In HTTP, encryption protects communication from observation and modification, and is used to establish the identity of the server. Feed readers, therefore, are expected to follow best current practice for encryption, as captured in the relevant RFCs and industry practice.

This includes implementation of the most recent version of TLS (as of this writing, [TLS13]), the Strict-Transport-Security mechanism [HSTS], and Certificate Transparency checking [TRANS].

3.2. Cookies

The HTTP Cookie mechanism has aspects that are problematic for privacy; see, eg., Part xx of [COOKIES]. Therefore, when making feed requests feed readers MUST NOT send the Cookie header field, and when receiving feed responses, they MUST NOT process the Set-Cookie header field.

3.3. ETags

HTTP ETags (see Part x.x of [HTTP]) are especially useful to feed readers, as they enable more efficient transfers when there have been no changes to a feed. However, they can also be used to track user activity. Therefore, feed readers SHOULD periodically send requests without If-None-Match header fields, to asure that ETags are changed.

3.4. User-Agent

Feed readers SHOULD NOT include more significant detail than an identifier for the software being used and its version. In particular, detail about libraries used and other aspects of the environment can contribute to the formation of an identifier for the user.

3.5. Client IP Address

Feed readers SHOULD take steps to prevent servers hosting feeds from using the client's IP address to identify them or track their activity. For example, [MASQUE] might be used to this end.

4. Handling Feed Content

When a feed reader displays a feed content (including an individual feed entry) to its user, interaction with the feed's server is limited in several ways to reduce privacy impact. This section outlines those limits.

4.1. Requesting Remote Resources

Feed readers MAY make requests for remote resources that are explicitly part of the feed or feed entry's metadata. For example, a feed reader might fetch the URL in the atom:logo element (defined in Section 4.2.7 of [ATOM]) in order to present it to the user.

Feed readers MAY make requests for remote resources that are embedded in feed content. However, the user MUST be able to control this behaviour.

4.2. Executing Scripts

When handling feed content, feed readers MUST NOT execute embedded or linked scripts.

4.3. Reporting

Feed readers MUST NOT trigger reporting mechanisms designed for Web browsers when handing feed content. For example, [NEL], [CSP].

5. IANA Considerations

This document has no actions for IANA.

6. Security Considerations


7. References

7.1. Normative References

Hodges, J., Jackson, C., and A. Barth, "HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS)", RFC 6797, DOI 10.17487/RFC6797, , <>.
Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <>.
Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.3", RFC 8446, DOI 10.17487/RFC8446, , <>.
Laurie, B., Messeri, E., and R. Stradling, "Certificate Transparency Version 2.0", RFC 9162, DOI 10.17487/RFC9162, , <>.

7.2. Informative References

Nottingham, M., Ed. and R. Sayre, Ed., "The Atom Syndication Format", RFC 4287, DOI 10.17487/RFC4287, , <>.
Chen, L., Englehardt, S., West, M., and J. Wilander, "Cookies: HTTP State Management Mechanism", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-httpbis-rfc6265bis-10, , <>.
Barth, A., Ed., Veditz, D., Ed., and M. West, Ed., "Content Security Policy Level 2", W3C REC REC-CSP2-20161215, W3C REC-CSP2-20161215, , <>.
Doty, N., Ed., "Mitigating Browser Fingerprinting in Web Specifications", W3C NOTE NOTE-fingerprinting-guidance-20190328, W3C NOTE-fingerprinting-guidance-20190328, , <>.
Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke, Ed., "HTTP Semantics", STD 97, RFC 9110, DOI 10.17487/RFC9110, , <>.
Schinazi, D., "Proxying UDP in HTTP", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-masque-connect-udp-15, , <>.
Reitbauer, A., Ed., Jain, A., Ed., Creager, D., Ed., Grigorik, I., Ed., Mann, J., Ed., and J. Tuttle, Ed., "Network Error Logging", W3C WD WD-network-error-logging-1-20180925, W3C WD-network-error-logging-1-20180925, , <>.
RSS Advisory Board, "RSS 2.0 Specification", , <>.

Author's Address

Mark Nottingham