‘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]