Is Do Not Track dead on arrival?

Privacy wonks and advertisers are struggling to come up with a way for consumers to say 'Don't track me, bro'. Here's what DNT may look like when the dust finally settles.

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And if the browser maker (like Microsoft) goes ahead and sets the browser to DNT: 1 (don’t track me), they’ve already vowed to ignore it.

Assuming advertisers actually honor this flag, it would be a marginal improvement over what we have now. Today if you don’t want to be tracked you have two options: Manually opt out of tracking (hundreds and hundreds of times), or install a browser plug-in like DoNotTrackMe or Ghostery that automates that process.

This would be a single setting inside your browser. And it wouldn’t rely on creating a do-not-track cookie, which could easily be deleted. But it still puts the burden of opting out entirely on the consumer.

2. Some data will still be collected

Every site, including the one you are now reading, collects data about you, some of it more sensitive than others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Advertisers need to be able to record what ads were displayed and how many people clicked on them; publishers need to know which stories got the most readers.

DNT is designed to prevent sites from hoovering up that data from multiple sites to create a profile of you and your interests, or using that data for any other purpose. Exactly what other kinds of data are still collected and what happens to it is still being debated. But rest assured, even with DNT: 1, some data will be collected.

3. The ad industry may be playing bad cop

Though this is far from settled, the latest draft circulated by Swire suggested that companies which fail to follow the rules – like by ignoring that DNT: 1 flag in your browser and tracking you against your wishes – would be forced to suffer the terrible wrath of the Digital Advertising Alliance.

If that sounds remarkably like self regulation, that’s because it is. The DAA would “sanction” these rogue companies, though what that means I’d really like to know – I can’t find anything in the DAA’s self regulatory principles that describes what would happen if somebody flauts the rules. The Network Advertising Initiative is a scosh more forthcoming: The NAI says it would try to persuade the companies to comply, threaten to to expel them if they don’t, and as a last resort, report them to the FTC.

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