Microsoft has recently announced its plans to add an automatic Do Not Track feature to the newest version of Internet Explorer. Until now, users would have to choose to enable the Do Not Track feature. On Version 10, Do Not Track is a default setting. Ironically, the Do Not Track feature isn’t acknowledged by Microsoft’s ad network. In other words, even when users choose to enable the feature in their browsers, they are still tracked.
There are advertisers who do not agree with Microsoft’s decision. They are of the belief that since Microsoft has aided in the development of Do Not Track standards, it agreed that this should not be a default feature. In fact, many advertisers are expected to make a choice to ignore any Do Not Track indicators.
There are also those who believe that Microsoft’s decision to make Do Not Track a default setting is a portion of the company’s plan to hurt Google’s successful online advertising. In fact, to try to compete with Google, Microsoft at one time tried to purchase Yahoo.
The announcement by Microsoft came as a surprise to many. The World Wide Web Consortium is developing Do Not Track policies. According to Aleecia M. McDonald, who is co-chair of that agency’s Tracking Protection Working Group, the organization didn’t know there was going to be an announcement of this kind until actually it happened.
Ms. McDonald, who is also a privacy researcher with Mozilla, sees Microsoft’s action as a reason to come to a determination on the issue now, rather than wait for a later date. Alex Fowler, Mozilla’s privacy and public policy lead person does not agree with Microsoft’s plan. He references the World Wide Web Consortium’s latest Do Not Track report that states that in order for Do Not Track to work, it must be based on users’ preferences. Making it a default setting would take the control out of the end users’ hands. In fact, Fowler wrote in a blog post, “If DNT is on by default, it’s not a conversation. For DNT to be effective, it must actually represent the user’s voice.”
Not all were against this latest development. Many policy and law makers agreed with Microsoft’s decision to make Do Not Track a default setting.
Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, who co-sponsored the Do Not track Kids Act of 2011 praised the decision by Microsoft, calling it “an important first step towards greater privacy protections for consumers.” In addition, he stated, “It is my hope that Microsoft and other companies will go further in the future, so that Do Not Track also means ‘Do Not Collect’, giving consumers the ability to say no to both targeted advertising and collection of their personal data.”
Jon Leibowitz, a Federal Trade Commission chairman, called Microsoft’s decision “yet another step forward in giving consumers choice about their browsing data.” Further, he has said that “Despite this positive development, industry should honor consumer choice not just for receiving targeted ads, but for all tracking other than for expected purposes like security.”
Another agency that is not comfortable with the idea of a default Do Not Track feature is the Digital Advertising Alliance. This organization manages the Behavioral Advertising Privacy Program for the online advertising industry. They claim that Microsoft’s decision was one-sided, without consulting industry partners. A spokesperson has stated, “Microsoft’s technology announcement appears to include requirements that are inconsistent with the consensus achieved over the appropriate standards for collecting and using web viewing data (and which today are enforced by strong self-regulation).”
Microsoft, a member of both the Digital Advertising Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Do Not Track Working Group, gave their own statement on the issue. According to a blog post by Brendon Lynch, Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft, “Our decision to turn on DNT by default in IE10 for Windows 8 should be seen as part of this discussion, as it helps to provide clarity on one side of the discussion – when and how browsers send the DNT signal – and because it advances the idea of privacy as the default state.” As for Microsoft Advertising not acknowledging Do Not Track signals, Mr. Lynch added, “Microsoft does not yet respond to the DNT signal, but we are actively working with other advertising industry leaders on what an implementation plan for DNT might look like, with a goal of announcing more details about our plans in the coming months.”
The controversy has extended to Twitter. Christopher Soghoian, who is a security and privacy researcher, tweeted, “Do Not Track by default in IE 10 isn’t an example of IE competing against Chrome, but Microsoft going for the jugular – Google’s ad revenue.” He and many others feel that Microsoft’s goal is to do serious damage to Google’s advertising business, which relies on tracking data for targeting purposes.
In another “tweet”, Christopher Soghoian said, “Prediction: Ad networks that have already pledged to respect Do Not Track will backtrack for IE10 due to Microsoft enabling it by default.” Jim Brock, a privacy advocate with PrivacyChoice posted a simple tweet stating, “This is doom for a common DNT standard.”
Some feel that Microsoft will reverse its decision to make Do Not Track a default because of the negative backlash. We will just have to wait and see.Tags: Anonymous Browsing, Anonymous Surfing, internet browser, Internet Privacy, Internet Safety