Online Ad Industry: Go Ahead and Ignore Microsoft's 'Do Not Track' Browser

Two Powerful Organizations Tell Web Publishers Not to Honor Microsoft's 'Do Not Track' Signal

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A coalition of advertising trade associations gave publishers and advertisers license to ignore the "do not track" signal from Microsoft's coming web browser and any other that ships with the option checked by default.

The statement from the Digital Advertising Alliance marks the latest example of the online ad industry's insistence that it will only get behind "do not track" settings that web users have turned on themselves. Microsoft has said that it's new Internet Explorer 10 browser would set a "do not track" setting as a default setting.

"The DAA does not require companies to honor DNT signals fixed by the browser manufacturers and set by them in browsers," the statement said. "Specifically, it is not a DAA Principle or in any way a requirement under the DAA Program to honor a DNT signal that is automatically set in IE10 or any other browser. The Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association will not sanction or penalize companies or otherwise enforce with respect to DNT signals set on IE10 or other browsers."

The DAA has dubbed such default settings as "machine-driven."

But one of the main problems with the DAA's stance is that some people may choose to use IE 10 precisely because the "do not track" function is set by default and they do not want to be tracked. In those instances, advertisers may put themselves in the unenviable position of indirectly ignoring a person's wish not to be targeted with ads, something privacy advocates have long said they would fight.

Mike Zaneis, senior VP and general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau and a DAA board member, believes those points are currently moot since there is still not an agreed-upon definition of what "do not track" even means. Is it "do not collect" data as consumer and privacy advocates are pushing for, or only "do not target ," which groups such as the DAA are supporting? Or something in between? That's one of the debates still going on inside a closely watched "tracking protection working group" within the W3C web standards body. That group last met face to face last week in Amsterdam.

"We accomplished almost nothing," Mr. Zaneis said of those meetings. "There's more work to be done coming out of the meeting than there was going in."

The subtext to all of this is that the DAA still believes that its own self-regulation program -- that includes icons notifying consumers of tracking opt-out options -- is working. Microsoft participated in the process that created current industry standards until earlier this year when it changed course and announced that IE10 would ship with the "Do Not Track" setting as a default.

IE10 users will have the option to uncheck the option when they set up their browser for the first time, but if they do nothing, the browser will assume the users' wish is to not be tracked.

The dispute between Microsoft and the advertising industry is expected to play out at this week's annual meeting at the Association of National Advertisers. Last week the ANA blasted Microsoft in an open letter signed by 40 of the world's biggest advertisers, arguing that the move will diminish "the robust content and services available over the Internet."

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