Yahoo has stopped honoring the do-not-track requests that users send through their browsers, the company said this week.
“We fundamentally believe the best Web is a personalized one,” Yahoo said in a blog post announcing the shift.
The move marks a turnaround
for the company, which said two years ago that it would stop sending customized ads and
content to people who activate browser-based do-not-track settings. One reason Yahoo gave for the about face is that the ad industry hasn't yet agreed on how to implement do-not-track requests.
“As the first major tech company to implement Do Not Track, we’ve been at the heart of conversations surrounding how to develop the most user-friendly standard,” the company stated. “However, we have yet to see a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry.”
Yahoo still allows users to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads by clicking on a link -- either on its own site, or an umbrella site, like the one operated by the Networking Advertising Initiative. But privacy advocates say that opt-out links are problematic because they're tied to cookies -- and consumers who are especially privacy conscious often delete their cookies.
Yahoo isn't the first company to change course on do-not-track. Last year, the ad network TruEffect also retreated from its plan to stop serving targeted ads from people who send do-not-track requests through their browsers. At the time, Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mayer said the company was seeing do-not-track signals from 20% of users. He attributed that unexpectedly high proportion to Microsoft's decision to activate do-not-track by default in the Internet Explorer 10 browser.
All of the major browser companies now offer do-not-track headers, which tell publishers and ad networks that users don't want to be tracked. But the header doesn't actually prevent tracking. Instead, ad networks and publishers are free to ignore the signals.
For the last three years, Web companies, computer scientists and privacy advocates in the World Wide Web Consortium have tried to forge a consensus about how to respond to do-not-track signals.
Last week, W3C's tracking protection working group tentatively decidedthat a “do not track” request will communicate that users don't want data about themselves collected by ad networks. But the organization also says that ad networks should be able to collect some type of information -- such as data used for ad frequency capping -- even when people activate do-not-track. The group is still debating exactly what type of data can still be collected in that situation.For now, only a few Web companies currently say they honor do-not-track requests -- including Twitter and Pinterest. Twitter says it doesn't collect data transmitted by the “tweet” button -- which is present on many publishers' sites -- when users transmit a do-not-track command. Pinterest also says it won't target ads based on data from the “Pin It” button -- which is present on many outside sites -- when users send do-not-track signals.