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:
- Require explicit consent for enabling Do Not Track,
- Allow affiliate information sharing and
- 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.”
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.