Web Standards Group Criticizes Microsoft's Do-Not-Track Move

Microsoft's surprise move last week to break ranks with other Web companies by turning on do-not-track in Internet Explorer 10 is still causing considerable angst in the industry.

Assuming that ad companies respect browser-based settings, Microsoft's decision transforms online behavioral advertising into an opt-in system for IE10 users -- marking a dramatic departure from longstanding standards allowing behavioral targeting as long as users can opt out.

But there's no guarantee that ad networks will honor IE10's headers. While the umbrella group Digital Advertising Alliance said in February that it will require members to follow browser-based do-not-track requests, the group also imposed conditions on that promise. One of them was that users themselves select do-not-track.

The DAA condemned Microsoft's move, as did groups ranging from the Association of National Advertisers to the Direct Marketing Association to the privacy company TRUSTe.

On Tuesday, TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel wrote in a blog post that Microsoft's new do-not-track setting "will be confusing to consumers who have historically had default internet browser choices set to open, with the ability to adopt more restrictive limits."

That post prompted Microsoft associate general counsel Mike Hintze to tweet on Wednesday, "TRUSTe's view: browser settings should be defaulted to least privacy possible. Burden on users to protect privacy."

He said in a follow-up tweet, "Every default setting is making a choice for the consumer. Consumer can change it. Only [difference] is we chose privacy by default."

So far, however, Microsoft hasn't persuaded too many other Web company executives.

Today, some members of the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium expressed disapproval of Microsoft's move, according to a summary of a telephone conference call.

Some participants in the call said that a browser-based do-not-track setting shouldn't be turned on by default -- though the language used in the write-up of the call indicates that not everyone agrees.

"Today we reaffirmed the group consensus that a user agent MUST NOT set a default ... unless the act of selecting that user agent is itself a choice that expresses the user's preference for privacy," reads a summary of the conference call. "In all cases, a DNT signal MUST be an expression of a user's preference."

That phrasing appears to pave the way for arguments that users make a choice by selecting a certain browser, or software that automatically turns on do-not-track.

The W3C is still sorting out the issue. Meanwhile, some participants apparently expressed the remarkable opinion that Microsoft itself could face a Federal Trade Commission inquiry for activating do-not-track by default.

"Implication A: Microsoft IE ... will not be able to claim compliance with DNT once we have a published W3C recommendation," reads the summary of the phone call. "If they claim to comply with the W3C recommendation and do not, that is a matter the FTC (and others) can enforce."

Of course, it seems unlikely that the FTC would ever sue Microsoft for enabling do-not-track by default. That representatives from other ad and tech companies could even raise the prospect shows just how unnerved they must be by Microsoft's move.

4 comments about "Web Standards Group Criticizes Microsoft's Do-Not-Track Move".
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  1. Chaston Gordon from Doba LLC, June 6, 2012 at 9:31 p.m.

    Microsoft acts as if they have the clout to spare; as if it were the mid 90's again all of sudden. Do they really think that they can afford to lose precious data that impairs their ability to conduct data-driven marketing campaigns? Depending on the study, IE is ranked on average as the 2nd most used browser world-wide. This forces me to also ask, why upset so many partners, vendors and site owners who spend considerable amounts of their time and budget on solutions that depend on this kind of data to effectively market? The ultimate question however should come from the end-user. Why would I mind being tracked if it meant that my web experience becomes personalized to my behavior, habits and interests? This simply creates a real jump back for virtually everyone...including Microsoft. Thoughts anyone?

  2. Robert Zager from iconix, inc., June 6, 2012 at 10:46 p.m.

    We know that people tend to take the defaults. Look at organ donation. In opt-out systems, the donation rate is about 80%. In opt-in systems, the donation rate is about 20%. Big campaigns to drive opt-in have little impact.

    Knowing that a default opt-out will result a large shift of users from tracked to not-tracked is the real concern of marketing guys. They know that the default will be the option of choice, no matter what it is. All the guys that have a vested interest in tracking people are unhappy about a privacy default. DNT default doesn't stop people who want to be tracked from being tracked -- it just forces folks to change the default -- which most folks probably won't change.

    Let us not forget that there are places other than the US and authorities other than the FTC. Maybe Microsoft is looking to EU compliance as its compliance model. You see a lot of US firms scrambling to be EU compliant.

    One wonders if the group concensus of tracking advocates isn't a consensus that is out of step with the EU and some FCC commissioners.

  3. Robert Gilmour from Innfinite Hospitality Ltd, June 7, 2012 at 5:56 a.m.

    I agree with Microsoft, of course you should have to opt in, its about privacy and trust after all. I'll be disabling all my browsing data, cookies regularly from now on, I don't even see opt out options on most websites, but this will change big time in the UK and EU with the EU cookie directive.

    The idea that people can use your personal data by default, ie unless you tell them not to - is invasive and absurd.

  4. Robert Repas from Machine Design Magazine, June 7, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.

    For once Microsoft has done something I can applaud. Tracking should have always been opt-in from day one, and it's only pandering to special interests so they can make the most money selling ads to people who don't read them, want them, nor will act on them that has kept it opt-out, if that much.

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