It was really sweet of Microsoft to want to protect us from online ad agencies and any other organizations who may wish to watch our online activities and behaviors. After all, online privacy and security is a hot-button topic right now. Surely the Redmond-based company wanted to get ahead in this arena and be forever known as the company who led the charge in the Do Not Track (DNT) debate.
However, it’s true what they say, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. On Wednesday, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) came to a compromise of sorts regarding DNT and how users are able to turn the feature on and off.
Last week, Microsoft announced their newest browser, Internet Explorer 10, would have a DNT feature turned on by default, meaning the user’s activity would be ‘flagged,” notifying advertisers that the user wishes to not be tracked.
This announcement upset the online advertising industry — not the least of which is Google — who tracks site traffic as a way to serve up online ads. Since IE 10 could be responsible for 25% of all internet traffic, the advertisers and W3C saw this move as less of a way to protect their users and more of a way to disrupt the industry.
It’s also important to note these advocacy groups and the W3C have still yet to come to a definitive solution for handling DNT which makes each party happy. Even Wednesday’s proposal is still undergoing an approval process by the entire group.
It seems their feelings towards Microsoft’s actions is one thing they can all agree on, however.
“An ordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user’s explicit consent.” according to the W3C proposal.
If this proposal is approved, Microsoft would have to disable their default DNT options, lest they face legal troubles.
“Microsoft IE, as a general purpose user agent, will not be able to claim compliance with DNT once we have a published W3C Recommendation,” said W3C co-chair Aleecia McDonald to Computerworld. McDonald has her feet in both camps, working as a researcher at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society (CIS) and serving part time at Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser.
“As a practical matter, they can continue their current default settings, since DNT is a voluntary standard in the first place. But if they claim to comply with the W3C Recommendation and do not, that is a matter the FTC (and others) can enforce,” McDonald said.
Now, the W3C and Microsoft have found themselves at odds, waiting for one another to flinch and cede control.
According to Wired, if Microsoft claims compliance with the W3C’s DNT policies but continues to turn on DNT by default, advertising firms will be able to ignore the DNT flags and track users anyway. Jonathan Mayer, also a privacy researcher at Stanford CIS, says, “We don’t have agreement on what the ramifications are. Can ad networks ignore a tracking request from IE10?”
“Google and Yahoo and Adobe said they should be able to ignore the header from IE10, but Mozilla and Apple have said that ad networks should not ignore it.”
Neither Microsoft nor Mozilla have commented on the W3C’s draft proposal. While IE 10 will not ship until Windows 8 is released sometime later this year, release previews of the software already have the DNT enabled.