Despite pushback from the ad industry, Microsoft says it has no intention of backing away from its decision to activate the do-not-track setting by default on the Internet Explorer 10 browser.
Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president at Microsoft, says in a blog post that although the company is "listening" to the industry's reaction, it remains "steadfast" in its decision to enable do-not-track by default.
He writes that the do-not-track technology is part of the company's "commitment to innovate around privacy to give consumers more control of their personal information online."
Microsoft stunned many in the online ad industry in May, when it said it would automatically activate do-not-track headers in Internet Explorer 10. In August, the company clarified that it will turn the setting on by default for users who choose "express settings" during the Windows 8 installation process.
That move drew criticism from many ad industry players, including the Association of National Advertisers. That group recently urged Microsoft to rethink its "ill-considered approach," which the ANA argues will harm online advertising.
When activated, a do-not-track header sends a signal that users don't want to be tracked as they surf the Web. But the signals don't actually block tracking. Instead, it's up to ad networks and publishers to react to the signals.
At this point, the industry hasn't agreed yet on how to respond to do-not-track settings. The Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium is trying to forge a consensus, but participants have been unable to agree on critical issues -- including whether ad networks should stop collecting data from users who activate do-not-track, or merely stop sending those people behaviorally targeted ads.
Even if the group can reach a decision about the meaning of do-not-track, it's not yet clear whether ad networks will honor that request when it comes from IE10 browsers. The ad industry self-regulatory group Digital Advertising Alliance said in October that it wouldn't require members to do so because Microsoft's do-not-track signal is set to "on" by default.
Smith argues in his blog post that browser vendors "should have the ability to turn the DNT signal on or off when they release a product or service," but should also make it easy for users to change the setting. "There needs to be an easy and effective way for responsible advertisers and ad networks to inform consumers and obtain persistent consent for their services when the DNT signal is turned on," he says.
Smith suggests offering consumers a mechanism to opt-in to data collection on a company-by-company basis while keeping do-not-track turned on. "We believe gaining explicit permission from consumers to collect their information ... is the right path forward for online behavioral advertising," he writes.