Do Not Track: has Microsoft outwitted competitors Google and Facebook?

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Google, Microsoft, Privacy

Brendon_Lynch Microsoft Chief Privacy OfficerWith a deft side step, Microsoft appears to have outflanked Do Not Track opponents, like Google and Facebook who depend on tracking for their advertising.

In a recent Microsoft blog post, Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch explained how IE10 would handle Do Not Track preferences:

DNT will be enabled in the "Express Settings" portion of the Windows 8 set-up experience.  There, customers will also be given a “Customize” option, allowing them to easily switch DNT "off" if they'd like.

In this apparently innocuous 'clarification', he also writes that this will benefit all users: they will enjoy the best privacy settings by default while having alternative options within easy reach.

What Brendon does not say is that Microsoft might just be attempting to maintain its position of having Do Not Track on by default AND bring itself into line with the standard which is designed to have Do Not Track as opt in. Sneaky!

This all started way back in May when Microsoft first announced that IE10 will support Do Not Track by default when Windows 8 is released in October.

So, a few days later, opponents on the W3C working group, including Google and Facebook, flexed their muscles and amended the draft standard, specifically to sabotage Microsoft's plans of having Do Not Track turned on by default.

An ordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user's explicit consent.

This standard change would mean that Microsoft's Do Not Track implementation would be considered non-compliant. And that means that competitors would now be required to ignore Do Not Track signals from Microsoft browsers.

And that is the situation we are in now. Chances are that you are reading this article from a browser that currently supports Do Not Track, but the feature is switched off. Both sides of this argument know that the vast majority of users stick to a browser's default settings.

Screen shot of Firefox showing DNT setting

So, with its latest announcement via its Chief Privacy Officer, Microsoft can claim that it will be true to its own intention of having Do Not Track on by default in IE10 and true to the standard by gaining a user's explicit consent.

Let's hope that the W3C working group are cool with this approach and we can all move on. After all, an awful lot of things have to happen in order for Do Not Track to make a difference, and this is just the first step.

If this issue is not resolved, wouldn't the real losers in this fiasco be IE10 users? They will think they using Do Not Track (because it is turned on by default) when actually the setting is just ignored by the likes of Google and Facebook.

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28 Responses to Do Not Track: has Microsoft outwitted competitors Google and Facebook?

  1. Machin Shin · 749 days ago

    "If this issue is not resolved, wouldn't the real losers in this fiasco be IE10 users? They will think they using Do Not Track (because it is turned on by default) when actually the setting is just ignored by likes of Google and Facebook."

    Now this is an interesting thought. Although in the end I think it will be decided by the people. The general population is not going to care about some carefully worded standard that has been bent to the will of the power players.

    In the end the general population will see that they are saying they do not want to be tracked and that Google and Facebook are ignoring that. Frightening as it is, Microsoft would actually appear to the general population to have the moral high ground. In the end that might be all that matters as it really all boils down to who will win the PR battle.

    If Microsoft rallies a large group of angry users behind them do you really think waving that "standard" around will do any good?

    • Jeremy Nickel · 749 days ago

      The standard is only as good as it is worded in all the End User" disclaimers out there. Between the statements made by these developers, and anyone's smart lawyer........i dont think Microsoft and any following, have a big enough bank roll to fend off masses of people who find loopholes in any of this.

      Dangerous territory!

    • markstockley · 749 days ago

      You are absolutely right about standards. Usefulness and desirability count for far more than semantics. We already have web browsers that are HTML5, CSS3 and DNT capable but all of those standards are still under development.

      I'm not sure there will ever be a large group of angry users - I expect that most users will never even know that DNT exists, let alone that it's switched on. However I think the politicians will notice. If the working group don't deliver a workable standard then the legislators will take matters into their own hands and I suspect that nobody on the working group wants that.

  2. Jason · 749 days ago

    Where is the DNT in Chrome? I went deep into the settings and didn't see it. I know there are extensions available but this seems like a core function.

    • Charlie · 749 days ago

      As Machin Shin has said Google may ignore it. As you know, Chrome is Google's browser.

  3. @joelhalluk · 749 days ago

    “EU law under 5(3) of the ePrivacy Directive requires explicit consent before tracking cookies can be used [and] the Article 29 Working Party have already issued an opinion that browser settings for DNT [that] are disabled by default are not sufficient to satisfy EU regulations,”

    Chief executive of Think Privacy has siad that web browsers that do not have DNT switched on as a default option could find themselves falling foul of EU law.

    So IE10 with DNT on as default, but allowing the user to turn it off protects consumers and helps to bring IE0 into compliance with EU regulations..

  4. Lynne · 749 days ago

    I think with Chrome, Firefox and Safari, you have to do to the Do Not Track website and download it.

  5. Tom · 749 days ago

    Mozilla Firefox 14 has the do not track option under tools/options, and their browser is free.

  6. Internaut · 749 days ago

    Historically, how many sites actually honor a DNT? A DNT doesn't mean no one will track, it just means that they are being asked not to track.

    I look forward to the day that we can actually browse under the radar without having to say ' please do not invade my privacy'! It is no one's business who I telephone, what radio station I listen to, or what TV programs I watch. It applies to the Internet as well.

    I

  7. Alice Lewin · 749 days ago

    I think in Chrome, it's in Tools, then settings, click on advanced settings at the bottom of the page and go down to location. Check off "do not allow websites to track your location.

  8. Terrance Banks · 749 days ago

    I guess the privacy laws mean nothing in this country, The USA. And the world as this states. OH well, I guess we made it so.

  9. Jack · 749 days ago

    If sites are ignoring DNT, then what's the point? Nobody has brought up the fact no one has said that it will not be a dynamically toggle that sites couldn't manipulate. I.E. can a site actually change it? Most of these options appear to be manipulable via some code sequence, has anyone doubted that? I know it's out of bounds, but it still bothers me. I hope it not possible, but it's all done with smoke and mirrors anyway, right?

  10. roy jones jr · 749 days ago

    Laws have to be updated as well. And they need to have certain things built in because lets face the truth: We can't police ourselves. And I can't tell you what to do in the privacy of your house. But if you're doing something you're not supposed to (like criminal acts) we have to have something to curtail it. Considering what has happened recently in current events, I'd say our privacy needs to be invaded a little every now and then.

    • Mark · 734 days ago

      You want even less privacy than government being able to listen in on your electronic communications and a fleet of drone aircraft that can record most of your movements?!

      No me!

  11. ken · 748 days ago

    I use Firefox and even though there is the option to 'ask' sites to not track me, it isn't worth trusting.

    I also use Ghostery and BetterPrivacy, two browser add-ons (there are others that do a similar job) that help manage/block/track trackers and especially deal with 'super-cookies' - Local Stored Objects or 'Flash cookies' that do not expire and are not cleared by the usual browser cookie clear out.

    It is highly enlightening to see almost the exact same trackers blocked at nearly every site I visit (and I am a 'conservative' browser). If I site doesn't load because the LSO/trackers are blocked I have complete control over whether to allow them temporarily, permanently or not at all. I often decide if a site has too many trackers not to bother with it and look for the information elsewhere, which I usually find!

  12. Marc Glasby · 748 days ago

    Ghostery for Firefox seems like a good way to block tracking for those who want to browse with a bit more privacy.

  13. Lee · 748 days ago

    I think if you want pure privacy then you need to be using Tor

  14. Zeze · 748 days ago

    Re. the Chrome browser : it hass not, repeat /not/ yet implemented DNT, in any versions (but there are 3rd pary add-ons as someone noted above). Google did announce DNT would be added to Chrome / Chromium browser itself by the end of this (2012) year. For whatever good or bad reasons they are not in a hurry - this is clearly not a technical challenge ...

    • markstockley · 747 days ago

      The technical challenge for Google is that they said they want to implement DNT in both their browser *and* their websites by the end of the year.

      I imagine that implementing DNT across Google's various properties is enormous and I understand why they want to hold back DNT in Chrome until it's done - the PR would have been far worse if they'd produced a browser that could send the DNT header but all of their websites ignored it.

  15. Skeeter · 748 days ago

    I've been usin Do Not Track Plus which is a free app & so far it's working very well for me!

  16. Darren Lynch · 714 days ago

    They can add on all the bells and whistles they like; I still won't use IE because it is not as secure as Opera.

  17. Scott Colin · 714 days ago

    I wont use IE because it simply does not work. The time it takes for IE to close once I click it is so long that I just pull the power to my computer instead LOL

  18. Kevin Woolley · 714 days ago

    I use do not track and do not track plus, my main issue is with all the junk mail I get in my hotmail inbox, I don't get any junk in my gmail inbox, can anyone help, my filters are set to safe mode.

  19. Guy Halls · 714 days ago

    Kevin Woolley. Changing your Hotmail password often puts a curb on the amount of spam... Never unsubscribe to spam that asks for your email address.

  20. CJ Roshak · 714 days ago

    I've used DNT in Firefox for years.

  21. Gary Seymour · 714 days ago

    What ARE you talking about Guy, how can changing your password stop spam from being sent to your inbox?????

  22. Andrew Cooper · 714 days ago

    DNT refused to work for me so I use Ghostery in Firefox.

  23. Eye Tea · 714 days ago

    What is this 'Microsoft' thing?

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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