The ad industry is continuing to ramp up the pressure on Microsoft to retreat from its decision to activate do-not-track headers by default in Internet Explorer 10.
"A 'default on' do-not-track mechanism offers consumers and businesses inconsistencies and confusion instead of comfort and security," the self-regulatory group Digital Advertising Alliance said on Tuesday.
The organization added that it won't require members to honor do-not-track headers from people who use the Internet Explorer 10 browser. While the ad group previously indicated that it won't require publishers and ad networks to respect do-not-track signals set to "on" by default, Tuesday's statement was the most definitive to date.
"It is not a DAA Principle or in any way a requirement under the DAA Program to honor a DNT signal that is automatically set in IE10 or any other browser," the group stated. It noted that the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- which enforces the industry's self-regulatory principles -- as well as the Direct Marketing Association won't sanction companies that ignore do-not-track signals from Microsoft's IE10 browser.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau praised the DAA for taking a position against "machine-driven" do-not-track browser standards, saying that they "restrict consumer control and freedom of choice."
The DAA's announcement is the latest in a series of measures by the ad industry aimed at pressuring Microsoft to reverse its controversial decision to activate do-not-track headers in Internet Explorer 10 by default. The company has said it intends to do so when users select "express settings" during the Windows 8 installation process.
Last week, the Association of National Advertisers publicly criticized Microsoft for the move, arguing that it will undercut online advertising.
As of Tuesday, Microsoft showed no signs of backing away from its position. Brendon Lynch, chief privacy officer at Microsoft, stated that a recent company survey of U.S. and European consumers showed that 75% want the company to turn on do not track. "This reaffirms our decision to enable DNT in the 'Express Settings' portion of the Windows 8 set-up experience," he stated. "There consumers can easily switch DNT off if they’d like."
Do-not-track headers signal to publishers and ad networks that users don't want to be tracked as they surf the Web. But the signals don't actually block tracking. Instead, ad networks and publishers decide whether to respond to the signals. The umbrella group DAA said in February that it would require members to honor those signals, but only if the browser wasn't set to "on" by default.
Some privacy advocates say the ad industry isn't likely to have the final word on the question. Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy for the Center for Democracy & Technology, points out that Microsoft theoretically could reconfigure its browser so that it blocks cookies from third parties that reject the do-not-track setting.
"Blocking ads would be a bad result all around, but both sides seem increasingly dug in," he says.
For now, questions about whether publishers and ad networks will honor the signals are largely academic because no one has developed standards to implement the headers. The World Wide Web Consortium met last week in Amsterdam to discuss the issue, but the group didn't reach a consensus.