Browser wars - Microsoft says IE10 will support Do Not Track by default

Filed Under: Internet Explorer, Privacy, Web Browsers

On Thursday Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 will be the first web browser with a Do Not Track feature that's on by default.

Woman with laptop on mountain. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch explained the move in unequivocal terms:

We've made today’s decision because we believe in putting people first. We believe that consumers should have more control over how information about their online behavior is tracked, shared and used.

Consumers should be empowered to make an informed choice and, for these reasons, we believe that for IE10 in Windows 8, a privacy-by-default state for online behavioral advertising is the right approach.

When the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released its first drafts for Do Not Track standards in November 2011 I asked the question Will Do Not Track make a difference to web privacy?

In the article I explained that Do Not Track must be on by default if it's going to have an impact and at that time we just didn't know if that was likely to happen.

...users will need to upgrade to a new generation of DNT compliant browsers to get the ball rolling ... [we] don't know yet if the browser vendors are intending to switch DNT on by default...

Well now we know that one of them is. Microsoft are the first and their decision is important both practically and morally.

Practically the move is significant because it will greatly increase the pressure on websites to start honoring the Do Not Track standard.

Do Not Track relies on two distinct technical steps; web browsers that send out Do Not Track signals (in the form of HTTP headers) and websites that listen for and honor those Do Not Track signals.

Internet ExplorerSo long as the volume of Do Not Track signals being received by websites is low there will be little pressure for them to implement their parts of the Do Not Track standard. Internet Explorer remains a very popular browser and a lot of people are going to end up using IE 10.

The moral impact of this decision is that it will change users' minimum expectations when it comes to trusting their web browsers.

Browser vendors don't really compete on features any more, they compete on performance and trust; the best browser is the fastest, most secure and most private.

All the major browsers already support Do Not Track in one form or another but up until now they have all left it to their users to switch it on.

As long as none of them enabled Do Not Track out of the box then none of them looked any more or less trustworthy as a result. Microsoft's decision to break the status quo makes its competitors look like they have something to hide and that isn't something I think they'll tolerate.

So I'm watching with interest to see how, and particularly how quickly, the other vendors respond.

Windows 8 doesn't have a release date yet but the rumor is that users won't get their hands on it until October.

Meanwhile Mozilla will push out a new version of its Firefox browser every few weeks between now and October. If Mozilla chooses to it can have a browser with Do Not Track on by default and in the wild long before Microsoft.

Although Do Not Track extensions are available for Chrome, Google is not intending to add support into its browser proper until the end of 2012. Even with that shameful bit of heel-dragging they still have enough time to beat Microsoft to the punch.

Google and Mozilla; a little piece of your thunder has been stolen, I dare you to take it back.

Woman with laptop on mountain image, courtesy of Shutterstock.

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14 Responses to Browser wars - Microsoft says IE10 will support Do Not Track by default

  1. David Rose · 787 days ago

    I don't understand the benefits of DNT. Most average users want web services to remain free of charge at point of supply. Isn't the right to track me a fair swap for the 'free' product they supply ?

    • Kim · 783 days ago

      No, it's not. If you feel that way, by all means, turn it off and allow creepy corporate stalking to your heart's content. Just don't assume that others want that, too.

  2. lovebondz · 787 days ago

    Patiently waiting for the official release of Win 8

  3. lovebondz · 787 days ago

    Patiently waiting for the official release of Win 8, that was a pretty good initiative by Microsoft.

  4. Bob · 787 days ago

    You forgot to mention that Google does not honour DNT (caught circumnavigating IE9 DNT) and MS had to specifically block them.

  5. Thomas Kent · 787 days ago

    "Do Not Track relies on two distinct technical steps; web browsers that send out Do Not Track signals (in the form of HTTP headers) and websites that listen for and honor those Do Not Track signals."
    And if a website chooses NOT to honor those Do Not Track signals? What then?

    • Robert · 782 days ago

      Then you may be denied access to the website, or if you are allowed, some features of the website may not work properly, or access will be slow, maybe really slow.
      For example, I blocked Doubleclick using my router, and as a result I cannot sign into any Google site, including YouTube. Doubleclick is partnered with Google.
      "DoubleClick is often linked with the controversy over spyware because browser HTTP cookies are set to track users as they travel from website to website and record which commercial advertisements they view and select while browsing." - Wikipedia

  6. John W Baxter · 787 days ago

    Microsoft has stated that IE10 will be released for Windows 7. There is considerable *speculation* that this will happen around the time of Windows 8 RTM, which would move IE10's date toward the present by quite a bit.

    • njorl · 783 days ago

      Yes, but not for Vista (or XP).

      Microsoft thinks those of us who bought Vista should pay again (to "upgrade" to the strikingly-similar 7) to have tracking off by default. Seems MS has given up on the browser war and is now seriously concerned about the OS war.

      • Jonathan · 776 days ago

        First of all, if you fail you acknowledge the vast difference between Windows Vista and Windows 7 and don't believe shelling out the money is appropriate, then by all means continue to suffer on a sub-par OS. Secondly, in no way does this signal that Microsoft is worried of it's share in the OS market (While that may be true, it is not indicated by this move.)

        So, moot, sir.

  7. Mark · 785 days ago

    While DNT is a nice system and I welcome its expanded usage, in practice it relies on each and every website to agree and quite frankly the ones I worry about the most are the ones least likely to agree - or to say they agree but act differently.

  8. roy jones jr · 784 days ago

    More web privacy? I'm all for it. I'm sure that if folks want to access something really bad and its blocked they will find a alternate site.

  9. BobC · 784 days ago

    I've been using Abine.com's Do Not Track Plus available for Firefox for a while now, and am pleased with the results it's been showing me.

    In fact, it's currently blocking 4 social sites, 2 ad networks and 5 companies from tracking me on this page alone. It tells me this info for each site I visit. I like that it tells me who is following me, or trying to.

    I cannot really remember if I ever clicked on an ad in any website I've been on. When I am in need of something, that's when I will go look for it, not before. I thought that's what search engines were for. But, that's me.

  10. Nigel · 783 days ago

    I've been a rather severe critic of Microsoft in the past, and always because they deserved that criticism. But fair is fair, and they are deserving of praise when they do it right. DNT by default is definitely the right thing, and I applaud Microsoft for doing it.

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About the author

Mark Stockley is the founder of independent web consultancy Compound Eye and he's interested in literally anything that makes websites better. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkStockley