August 18, 2012, 7:05 AM — Microsoft angered advertisers when it confirmed that it would enable do-not-track mode in its upcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser -- the IE version that will be designed for use with Windows 8.
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Do-not-track mode is an HTTP setting that allows users to stop Web applications from tracking their online behavior. Advertising and analytics companies have pushed strongly for Microsoft not to enable do-not-track by default, as this would undercut their ability to provide user data for targeting ads and analyzing online behavior.
While the issue is complicated -- for one thing, websites have to voluntarily comply with the do-not-track request -- Microsoft's stated pro-consumer reasons for its stance highlight just how important online privacy is to today's users. But is IE 10 going to be the new standard for Web privacy? Let's see how other top browsers handle the issue.
Google announced in February that it plans to add a do-not-track button to Chrome before the end of the year. While it hasn't happened yet, there's a browser extension available for Chrome that can provide this functionality.
It seems unlikely that do-not-track will be enabled by default, however, given Google's dependence on online advertising revenue.
Given that Mozilla lead privacy engineer Sid Stamm was one of the original creators of the standard, it should come as no surprise that Firefox already boasts baked-in support for do-not-track. However, Stamm wrote in a blog post last year that Mozilla doesn't enable the standard by default, out of respect for consumer choice.
"It's important that the signal represents a choice made by the person behind the keyboard and not the software maker, because ultimately it's not Firefox being tracked, it's the user," he said.
The brand-new version of Apple's main browser now has built-in support for do-not-track, having been released as part of the company's new OS X Mountain Lion operating system last month. It is not enabled by default.
The browser was also at the center of a related privacy controversy, as Google was recently found to have violated Safari users' privacy by collecting information on their browsing habits in violation of a previous agreement. The $22.5 million fine is reportedly the largest ever to be handed down in a case related to an FTC complaint.
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