‘Do Not Track’ Browser Option Will Remain Opt-In Only

Last week, Microsoft got some deserved praise from privacy advocates — and much “harumph”-ing from online advertisers — when it announced that its next iteration of Internet Explorer would go out with Do Not Track as the default privacy setting. Unfortunately, that plan appears to have been scuttled, not by Microsoft, but by the authors of the Do Not Track specifications draft.

Do Not Track doesn’t block tracking cookies by itself. Instead, it tells websites that the user would prefer not to be tracked. It’s currently up to the site operators whether or not they want to heed that request, though the FTC has expressed its support of DNT.

The latest version of the DNT spec draft, being prepared by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C for the cool kids), was updated last night and included a significant change.

Regarding the “Explicit Consent Requirement,” the draft now reads: “An ordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user’s explicit consent.”

This means that the browser can not send a DNT signal of any sort without the user actively choosing to turn the feature on.

The change is likely a capitulation to online advertisers who cringed at the thought of a new wave of IE users who automatically have DNT turned on.

Even though the once-dominant browser is no longer the most popular option for Internetting, it is still used by enough people to alarm advertisers and websites who rely on tracking data.

Stanford University’s Jonathan Mayer — a co-author of the draft; not to be confused with the John Mayer who wooed Jessica Simpson, Jen Aniston and Taylor Swift — said yesterday that the compromises made in the latest draft reflect “extraordinarily painful cuts for privacy-leaning stakeholders… Some participants have already indicated that they believe the proposal goes too far and are unwilling to support it.”

In addition to the change on the default settings for DNT, the draft also now allows the sharing of tracked information among companies that are “affiliated,” which is defined as “when they are related by both common majority ownership and common control.”

It should be noted that the draft is still a work in progress. But failing a huge public outcry over the matter — and probably not even then — it’s unlikely that DNT will default to on anytime soon.

IE 10′s “Do Not Track” default dies quick death [arstechnica.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. jeffpiatt says:

    what really stopped Microsoft from turning the switch on by default was the advertising companies getting the W3C to change the draft to make it “opt out” with tracking and giving them the excuse that the IE header was non standard and ignore it. Microsoft really wants to meet standards with IE and not be accused of abusing power by innovating.

  2. LJKelley says:

    The irony… Microsoft improving browsing and the W3C blocking it.

    • j2.718ff says:


    • nugatory says:

      it is a complete 180….

      I bet MS just adds a setup screen like most major IE settings today, so when you install a new version, one of the questions is do you want to turn on DNT. Meets the standards, and with a quick blurb about what it does, most users will probably turn it on.

  3. jp7570-1 says:

    Website operators will obey this as much as telemarketers obey the Do Not Call list.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      So basically you’re saying pretty much all reputable sites will comply and less reputable sites will ignore it? Fine with me. I can avoid going to less reputable sites.

      • iesika says:

        But you can’t necessarily avoid the disreputable sites tracking you, even if you don’t go to the sites. Check out the Collusion add-on for Firefox (Mozilla started the Do Not Track feature, and have add-ons that let you see who’s tracking you from where). It’s pretty fucking terrifying.

      • Nebular says:

        That’s all well and good, but it’s not the site you go to directly that you really need to worry about, but rather the reputation of the sites that host the ads that pop up everywhere on said reputable sites you need to be concerned about. You could go to http://www.safestsitearound.com and not be tracked, but if they have an ad shown from http://www.scumbagadvertising.com, that no longer matters because they’d be the ones ignoring the request and tracking you.

  4. Tim says:

    Aren’t the DNT standards just standards, not laws? And in that case, why can’t Microsoft just say “screw you” and do it?

    It’s not like Microsoft always abides by the standards …

    • Craige says:

      As a web-developer, it’s extremely annoying and painful when a browser doesn’t conform to standards. It’s like working on a car, and not knowing if you’re going to pop the hood to find an engine, or a hamster on a wheel.

      Also, turning DNT on by default undermines the whole DNT standard, and would crumble the internet as we know it. Like it or not, websites on the internet are free because you allow them to track you. Nobody HAS to abide by DNT, but you can imagine the stigma it will cause in 5 years when a company explicitly ignores your request to not be tracked.

      • dush says:

        If the do not track is just a signal and not enforced then what good is it anyway?
        How would a consumer ever know if their signal is being honored?

        • Jawaka says:

          Use an add-on like Ghostery.

          • nugatory says:

            I’ll second that.

          • EllenRose says:

            I use Do Not Track Plus, from Abine.com. Seems to work with Firefox. Right now it’s telling me I’ve blocked 79,426 tracking attempts (including 6 on this very page).

        • Craige says:

          It’s usually easy to tell when a company is tracking you. Your information is sold to advertisers, and you soon see advertisements for a 2013 Ford Mustang all over the place because you recently read a review about one.

      • LJKelley says:

        I guess that means we need more government regulation. Force websites to follow your choice of tracking. Have browsers ask you when you first start if you wish to be tracked by websites. I find it annoying that Aston Martin advertised to me on almost every website just because I visited their website once. Guess the joke is on them since I can’t afford one.

        • Blueskylaw says:

          I clicked on an ad for a $100,000 dollar watch once just because it was so
          damn expensive; had ads popping up for 6 figure watches for weeks after that.

      • alexwade says:

        Sorry, but you are wrong. TV ads don’t track what I do and they seem to work well enough. They are targeted for the audience that is likely to be watching that program, but still don’t track my behavior. If non-targeted advertising works on TV and radio, why does it suddenly not work on the internet.

        When will advertisers learn? People use the AdBlock and Ghostery add-ons because they don’t like targeted and annoying ads. If websites used simple, unobtrusive, and random ads, I would get rid of AdBlock. As it is, I keep AdBlock because I don’t want an ad to cover the screen, I don’t want an ad to play a video, I don’t want an ad slowing down the page. When people are ignoring ads, the answer is to stop annoying people; the answer is never EVER to be more annoying, more in-your-face, and more repulsive.

        For websites I like, I use Internet Explorer, click on the ad, and stay on the website long enough for the original site to get credit, and then clear out everything. I will not be tracked.

    • jeffpiatt says:

      the issue raised is the fact that the people doing the advertising would ignore the header if it came from IE10 and when they got caught they would defend by saying Microsoft build another non standard browser. Google is big on that they used an loophole in ios safari to add an +1 tracking button to sites and called out apple on it because that safari version has blocks on tracking. MS can’t afford to pull this off this close to the date they got the DOJ guy off the campus that approved weather or not they could implement an feature based on how it would heart the partners

  5. zandar says:

    Never fear- plenty of us will be checking DNT settings for our kids and computerphobic parents when the time comes anyway.

  6. Malik says:

    The delicious irony would be if there were a backlash of websites putting up paywalls in response to the loss of revenue from advertisers.

    Give the users a choice, get the free content with ads or pay for a version with no ads

  7. dush says:

    “affiliated,” which is defined as “when they are related by both common majority ownership and common control.”

    And how will the common consumer be able to determine this?

  8. Blueskylaw says:

    “Do Not Track doesn’t block tracking cookies by itself. Instead, it tells websites that the user would prefer not to be tracked.”

    Fox in charge of the henhouse situation?

  9. AllanG54 says:

    I know my Firefox is set to do not track but I don’t know if that actually stops anything.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      I think you’re thinking about “private browsing”. This Do Not Track feature will tell websites that you don’t want you to be tracked; and websites that abide by this standard won’t track you.

  10. maxamus2 says:

    Funny thing is, this page here has 7 companies tracking you.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Not me; someone here recommended Ghostery last year and I installed it on both laptops. :)

  11. Guppy06 says:

    When was the last time Microsoft sweated standards compliance?

  12. dush says:

    Why are advertisers able to not comply with the DNT setting anyway? That seems like a poor implementation of a feature. If the user turns it on their browser there should be no question that they won’t be able to get tracked. It shouldn’t be up to the advertiser.

    • nishioka says:

      > Why are advertisers able to not comply with the DNT setting anyway?

      Because you can’t force them to stop doing something that isn’t illegal.

      DNT is more about shaming website operators into compliance anyway. Those who comply will boast that they are doing so, and those who don’t will remain conspicuously silent.

      • dush says:

        I’m not saying advertising is illegal but if you set your web browser to not be tracked then it should work like that. The advertiser shouldn’t be able to get around that.

        Basically they are making another “do not call” list that is even more useless because there are no penalties attached to violating it.

  13. JonBoy470 says:

    This is mostly about targeted advertising, I ignore ads pretty much without regard to their content. What amuses me is people, most of whom have facebook accounts these days, complaining about “being tracked” and “losing their privacy” as if they’re important enough for anyone to actually give a $#!+ about them…

    This is the net effect on your life: Advertisements, which you will ignore or dismiss, will be thrown in front of your face whether you allow tracking or not. If the website cannot “track” you it will display ads randomly, with no discernible rhyme or reason. If they can track you there will be a discernible pattern, such as you seeing lots of “2013 Ford Mustang” ads because of a link you clicked a week ago. You’re ignoring the ads anyhow, so who cares?

  14. StevePierce says:

    This is an easy fix. During the Install Ask the question, do you wish to install this update and turn on Privacy Protection. Answer yes and it is explicit. – Steve