Privacy company TRUSTe has weighed in against Microsoft's plan to turn on do-not-track by default in the next version of Internet Explorer.
"We believe individuals, when properly informed and equipped, should make their own decisions that affect their privacy online," TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel says today in a blog post. "However, we do not believe today’s consumers are adequately informed or equipped to properly make decisions that affect their privacy."
On one level, that reasoning doesn't make much sense. If consumers don't understand what they're doing with privacy, then users' decisions to activate do-not-track, block cookies, click on opt-out links or otherwise try to control whether data about them is compiled and used for targeted ads are all equally problematic.
Regardless, Babel makes clear that TRUSTe supports the idea that browser-based do-not-track headers shouldn't be preset to 'on.' "The DNT control should only operate via a user selected setting to ensure the DNT selection directly reflects the consumer’s preference and provides a basis to hold the industry accountable for honoring that preference," he says.
Babel's blog post comes on the eve of the World Wide Web Consortium's three-day make-or-break conference about do-not-track standards. Some major industry players already indicated they will ignore do-not-track settings that are enabled by default, while some privacy advocates say that companies should follow the browser-based signals without first trying to read consumers' minds to decide whether they really meant to stop online behavioral advertising.
Questions about do-not-track headers also came up this morning at a House Judiciary Committee meeting about online privacy, where New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann expressed support for Microsoft's plan.
"Users benefit from being able to delegate the choice to enable Do Not Track to Internet Explorer; it simplifies the option of choosing this form of privacy," he said in his written testimony.
He also criticized other Web companies for indicating that they won't respect do-not-track commands that are turned on by default. "This attempt to sabotage the practical usability of Do Not Track would make it pointlessly harder for consumers to express their privacy preferences," he said. "Congress should legislate full compliance with Do Not Track -- which means that websites may not second-guess properly expressed user requests."
Still, W3C indicated two weeks ago that its members were leaning toward stating that do-not-track shouldn't be turned on by default. Many observers expect Microsoft to reverse course if the W3C ends up coming out against default-on settings.