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IE 10’s “Do Not Track” Default Controversy

From the FTC to the W3C and all the advertisers in between, there’s a controversy brewing regarding Microsoft’s announcement that its new browser, Internet Explorer 10, will have its “Do Not Track” function turned on by default. 

Web standards organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have said that Do Not Track should be user-facing and off by default. That’s essentially a concession by privacy advocacy groups to get online privacy legislation on the books.

Now, I know it sounds like Microsoft has finally come out on the side on consumers, but a careful reading of what Do Not Track really is tells a slightly different story.

You see, Do Not Track doesn’t actually block cookies or session variables. It simply sends a signal to every website a user visits telling the server they prefer not to be tracked. That signal is currently optional for sites and digital agencies to obey, though it’s gaining momentum.

The key to the controversy is that Do Not Track doesn’t really do anything except send a DNT signal most sites don’t know what to do with.

The W3C standards require that “a user agent [aka, a browser] MUST NOT send a tracking preference signal without a users’ explicit consent.”  Thus, Microsoft’s IE 10 will not be standards compliant as it DEFAULTS to sending a preference signal without express consent from the user.

After much re-negotiation, the compromise (as Wired Magazine reported recently) is:

  1. Require explicit consent for enabling Do Not Track,
  2. Allow affiliate information sharing and
  3. Prohibit tracking cookies.

As Ryan Singel writes:

“All of which means that there’s no likelihood now that Microsoft IE 10, or any other browser, will ship with DNT turned on by default, though they could come with a very easy way for users to turn it on. And there’s also nothing in the specification that would prohibit browsers from blocking tracking cookies by default by refusing “third-party” cookies, as Apple’s Safari browser has done for years. But the lifetime of a browser with DNT turned on by default is clearly measured in internet time. IE 10 with DNT turned on lived for six days before getting its death sentence.”

So it seems that, for now, the Ad Network nightmare is over.  Microsoft hasn’t cared about W3C standards compliance for years and it seems they have no intention on starting any time soon.

In these ‘wild west’ days of digital advertising, ad relevancy is still critical and without responsible and ethical tracking that relevancy is impossible.   Hate the ads by all means, but remember — they’re the one’s paying for the party.

Comments

andrew tuma, 06/07/2012

The key factor here is consumer awareness. I don’t think the argument should be to block tracking by default or not, but how accessible/visible the setting is. Providing a highly visible setting gives consumers the opportunity to toggle back and forth easily. It also gives marketers an opportunity to promote the benefits of tracking each time the user interacts with the setting.

Dan Tynan, 06/07/2012

Microsoft is just trying to make the internet a little more private for everyone! http://t.co/wivFqxPw

Justin Downey, 10/02/2012

UPDATE: The war continues…

According to an article by Ad Age Digital posted yesterday:

“Microsoft is using Advertising Week as a venue to unveil an array of services built on Windows 8, including new ad formats designed right into the operating system. ”

“But some of the nation’s biggest advertisers are using the opportunity to blast Microsoft for the latest version of Internet Explorer, which will ship with Do Not Track as a default setting, a move they believe damages the online ad ecosystem. “

Gui Ambros, 10/02/2012

If Microsoft enables Do-Not-Track by default, they’ll be breaking the standard — which says that NO option should be pre-selected; neither ON nor OFF by default.

If so, the only way to “fix” this “bug” will be to ignore the setting entirely at the server side, which Apache Foundation already said they’ll do on Apache server — which btw has 70% market share.

This will naturally create a lot of confusion among users, and probably the Do-Not-Track implementation will be much more messy than otherwise, and potentially DOA. At least this should give everybody a few more years to figure it out. See http://j.mp/Si6WHj for more info.

May sound very meta, but I’d say that the second best thing that could happen to advertisers and other people against the Do-not-track is _exactly_ its inclusion as ON by default on IE10. (the first thing would be for it to not be implemented in the first place).

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