Like a proverbial tree falling in the woods, most ad firms can't hear the thud of Internet Explorer 10's new Do Not Track feature. For several months the privacy feature has been a hot topic of conversation because Microsoft had chosen to enable it by default. Now that IE 10 is available, its impact seems muted, if not moot.
When users install the new IE, they won't see flashing lights or a giant red shield notifying them that the browser is guarding their privacy from snooping online advertisers. They will, however, be greeted with a "Meet Your New Browser" page that notifies them about the automated privacy setting.
"Websites you visit receive a Do Not Track request when you use Internet Explorer 10. To learn more about this setting, including how to turn it off, see More info about Do Not Track."
The "more info" page explains that users can turn DNT on or off and notes the types of information often tracked by first and third parties -- such as IP addresses. It also lists the benefits of tracking, such as it enables more relevant advertising.
"There can, however, be an impact to your privacy as a result, because it is possible for the content providers to track you across multiple sites where they might be providing content," states the page. By "content," Microsoft is referring to maps, "web measurement tools," and of course, ads.
The DNT tool can't be found under the Privacy settings where many users are bound to look for it. Rather, it's buried within the browser's Advanced settings, where a check box is automatically checked to "Always send Do Not Track header."
As stated on the page explaining the DNT function, "When the Do Not Track feature in Internet Explorer is turned on, Internet Explorer will send a Do Not Track request to the sites you visit and to the third parties whose content is hosted on those sites. Sites might respect the signal or might continue to engage in activities you might view as tracking even though you have expressed this preference, depending on the sites' privacy practices."
Indeed, few websites or third party ad firms are honoring Microsoft's DNT beacon, mainly because the company chose to automate the feature rather than allow users to chose to initially enable it. The Digital Advertising Alliance, the self-regulatory coalition guiding the ad industry's approach to DNT, told its members to feel free to disregard the IE10 signal.
The coalition oversees the pervasive Ad Choices program which allows users to opt-out from ad targeting via small triangular symbols placed in display ads. Hundreds of advertisers, ad tech firms and media outlets are participants in the DAA program, including Yahoo, Google, AOL and Microsoft.
Until stakeholders from industry, privacy groups and government agree on a DNT standard and related technical specs, DAA participants can be expected to continue ignoring Microsoft's DNT signal, and other DNT signals, too.
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