Do Not Track (DNT) is always a hot topic for our industry because it could certainly impact how we attribute conversions to publishers and affiliates. Several months ago, Microsoft announced plans to enable DNT as a default setting in Internet Explorer 10, as part of Windows 8. Last week those plans became a reality as Windows 8 shipped for retail purchase.
At the time Microsoft announced their plan, Chief Privacy Officer, Brendon Lynch, characterized the decision as a move toward empowering Windows users to make an informed choice. While privacy-centric communities supported Microsoft’s approach, industry organizations like the Digital Advertising Alliance opposed the move. Things became increasingly interesting during the months leading up to the Windows 8 launch, culminating in a bold move by Yahoo! to oppose Microsoft on Windows 8 launch day.
Mozilla, the foundation behind Internet Explorer competitor, Firefox, quickly spoke out against Microsoft’s decision the same day Brendon Lynch made his announcement. As the Mozilla privacy team puts it, “DNT allows for a conversation between the person sitting behind the keyboard and the site that they want to visit. If DNT is on by default, it’s not a conversation. For DNT to be effective, it must actually represent the user’s voice.”
At the beginning of September, Roy Fielding, one of the authors of DNT and long time contributor to the Apache web server codebase released a patch for Apache titled, “Apache does not tolerate deliberate abuse of open standards.” Fielding’s patch is designed to cause all Apache web servers to ignore the DNT flag in IE10 by default. As the most widely used web server in the world, Apache ignoring IE10 DNT settings could have a major impact on the value of the standard.
On Friday, Yahoo! officially opposed Microsoft’s approach to Do Not Track, issuing a formal statement on the Yahoo! Policy blog. The entire post is worth reading, but here’s the most important point:
Ultimately, we believe that DNT must map to user intent — not to the intent of one browser creator, plug-in writer, or third-party software service. Therefore, although Yahoo! will continue to offer Ad Interest Manager and other tools, we will not recognize IE10’s default DNT signal on Yahoo! properties at this time.
All this political posturing by some of the most influential organizations on the web points to the biggest flaw of Do Not Track – respecting DNT is suggested, not required, which means consumers won’t actually know whether their DNT browser choice is being respected when they visit websites. Consumers should have the right to choose what information gets shared, but DNT appears to be DOA, in part because Microsoft tried to force their worldview on the rest of the Internet.
Other solutions, like TRUSTed Mobile Ads and Apple’s Identifier for Ads are providing consumer choice in a manner that allows customers to make thier own choice. That’s the right way to empower users and the best way for desktop browsers like IE10 to remain relevant.