June 07, 2012, 1:22 PM — It seems Microsoft’s decision to turn on the Do Not Track feature in its upcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser by default did not sit well with the online
tracking advertising community.
At first, the ad trackers whined really loudly. Then they threatened to hold their breath until they turned blue. When those things didn’t work, they decided to take their Do Not Track toys and go home.
As of today, the folks building the Do Not Track spec the ad industry and FTC are working to create decided to exclude browsers that have Do Not Track (DNT) turned on by default. The new proposed language is here: "An ordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user's explicit consent."
That means that any browser like IE10 will not be compliant with that spec, and thus its DNT settings will be ignored by the servers dishing out those ads and tracking cookies. Game over. That sound you hear is the fat lady gargling.
The DNT spec is being drafted by three highly respected privacy wonks – Peter Eckersley of the EFF, Jonathan Mayer of Stanford University, and Tom Lowenthal of Mozilla. But it’s pretty clear the ad industry is driving the bus here by refusing to even consider DNT as a default.
To recap the ad industry’s point of view here, if I may: Setting a browser to block tracking by default takes the choice away from consumers. Setting a browser to allow tracking by default doesn’t. That make sense to anyone else out there?
Now the proposed spec also offers a couple of options to be considered. One is that users can access Do Not Track options via some kind of menu option (the state of affairs as it exists today in the major browsers). The other option is that users are prompted the first time they use the browser to make a choice whether they want to be tracked or not.
Of the two, the latter is by far the more preferable. It is the only true way to obtain explicit consent for tracking. But I’d be shocked if the ad industry went along with that, either. Why? Because they know that a lot of people – maybe not a majority, but a large number – would say ‘Don’t track me, bro.’