Reality Check: State of 'Do Not Track'
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
June 11 2012 01:35 AM ET
CREDIT: Shutterstock: Andy Dean Photography
Are you in or out? A brouhaha has broken out following Microsoft's announcement that its new version of Internet Explorer will come with ad tracking turned off. If you wanted to see online ads based on the sites you've visited, you would have to turn ad tracking on, and that has advertisers upset.
When Do Not Track is turned on, a website you visit receives a signal that says, "Don't track me" and if the website honors the signal —currently a big "if" — it's like you've never been there. You still see ads, but they aren't personalized.
Microsoft's decision went against what industry groups, including the Digital Advertising Alliance, had agreed to. At the direction of the Federal Trade Commission, the alliance is working on a universal Do Not Track tool for all browsers, based on Mozilla's browser feature first seen in Firefox 4 released last year. But the alliance says that the new tool would be turned off by default and users would have to turn it on to protect their privacy. Microsoft is a member of the alliance.
Most people never change their default settings, whether for their operating system, browser, software or online service like Facebook . Online advertisers could stand to lose a lot of money if they have to rely on users to change a setting before seeing targeted ads .
Don't get too excited about Microsoft's pro-privacy move yet. Do Not Track will be turned on for IE 10 users when it becomes available as part of the Windows 8 operating system in October. But for now, Do Not Track is still only one-half the equation. Online companies can decide whether or not to honor a Do Not Track signal from you.
While Twitter announced in May that it honors Do Not Track, Facebook does not. (Even Microsoft hasn't figured out how its own advertising system will respond.) It's a lot like putting your phone number on a do-not-call list that can be ignored at the whim of a telemarketer.