All You Need to Know About Do Not Track: Microsoft vs. Google and Mozilla

Original author: Emil Protalinski
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Do Not Track ( DNT ) is an HTTP header that allows you to bypass the tracking of your actions by sites. It sounds simple and that is how it was conceived, but in its short history the situation around this simple standard has become terribly difficult.

DNT currently takes three values: 1 means the user does not want to be tracked, 0 means the user agrees to the tracking, and null (by default) means the user did not express preference.

You've probably heard a lot about DNT lately. In the end, Google Chrome recently added its support in version 23, which was big news, since now all five major browsers support the standard.

That's good, isn't it? Definitely yes. However, this is hardly the end of the story - in fact, this is only the beginning. So: everything you need to know about DNT.

How did it all start?

Let's start from the very beginning. Although DNT caused quite a stir in the last few months, its history began five years ago. This may seem like a short time, but for the Internet it is quite a lot. Suffice it to say that five years ago Google Chrome did not even exist.

So, 2007. Human rights activists require the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create a “don't track me” list for online advertising, similar to a Do Not Call Registry), which also appeared in the news recently due to the fact that it was not very effective. The proposal was something like this: Internet advertisers should submit their information to the Federal Trade Commission, which then has to make a list of their domains that track users, mainly through cookies.

However, nothing significant happened for two years. Until in July 2009, researcher Christopher Sogoyan and Mozilla engineer Sid Stamm created a prototype add-on for Firefox, which first implemented the DNT header. However, it was just a test, and nothing suggested that Firefox would include this prototype in the browser.

However, in July 2010, FTC Chairman John Leibowitz, during a confidentiality hearing, told the US Senate Trade Committee that the commission was considering the idea. In December 2010, Leibovitz issued a confidentiality report that called for the development of such a system to give people the opportunity to avoid monitoring their online activities.

Just five days later, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 9 will support Tracking Protection Lists, which block user tracking using blacklists provided by third parties. It looked like the company was ahead of Mozilla, but in January 2011, Mozilla announced that Do Not Track would also appear in Firefox, and released an update for its browser before IE9 came out. Opera made a similar announcement in February 2011, and Apple’s Safari supported DNT in April 2011. Opera added support this month, as did Google Chrome.

What is the situation now?

However, the really interesting situation began to develop only this year. In May 2010, Twitter announced that it would support DNT in all major browsers.

In June 2012, Microsoft announced that DNT would be enabled by default in Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 (in the express setup that appears when you first launch the browser). The company explained this decision with its commitment to user privacy.

From that moment on, the situation became more complicated. Microsoft has been heavily criticized, mainly by the advertising industry. Marketing firms stated that the use of the DNT header should be a conscious choice by the user and therefore the feature should not be enabled by default. Mozilla agreed with this view, and Google reacted in the same way.

The main argument is that the decision violates the digital advertising alliance agreement with the US government, since the alliance initially stipulated that it accepts a DNT system if it is not enabled by default in browsers. Microsoft claims that users prefer a default DNT browser.

In September 2012, Roy Fielding, the author of the DNT standard, prescribed that Apache HTTP Server code ignore any use of the DNT header by IE10 users. In October 2012, Yahoo also announced that it would ignore DNT requests from IE10.

What are we going to?

Microsoft is moving forward with IE10, but we no longer live at a time when IE decides everything. Of course, IE10 comes with every Windows 8 computer sold, but nothing more. Windows 7 will eventually get IE10, but it will not happen so soon. Windows users are more likely to install Chrome or Firefox than ever before.

Unless Mozilla and Google do the same, DNT is unlikely to take off. And this is unlikely to happen, since Google and Mozilla get most of their money from advertising. 96% of Google’s revenue in 2011 came from advertising, and 85% of its royalties in 2011 came from Google. Therefore, deteriorating conditions for advertisers are not exactly what Google and Mozilla will want to do.

However, hope remains, still DNT has come a rather long way over the past few years. Google has the least hope of switching the default DNT value, but Mozilla can succumb to pressure from users, and Opera, as a rule, plays to increase its small client base. In addition, Microsoft may find an ally in the same company with which it has been collaborating more and more recently: Apple.

Safari has a small share on the desktop, but quite significant on the mobile market, so you can just wait and see how Apple relates to the privacy of its users.

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