updated 05:48 pm EDT, Thu June 7, 2012
IE10's default 'Do Not Track' causes ripples in ad, web-standards world
The World Wide Web Consortium working group charged with developing standards for tracking protection has announced that Internet Explorer 10 will not meet its compliance standards. The working group said the fact that IE10 will have the "Do Not Track" feature turned on by default is the reason for its rejection of the browser. As AdAge explores, the decision has wider implications than the future of IE10: the future of privacy web standards and online advertising figure greatly in the controversy surrounding the yet-to-be-released browser.
Microsoft based its decision to make the privacy feature the default setting on a 2010 report from the Federal Trade Commission, which called for uniform and comprehensive consumer choice mechanisms governing online behavioral advertising targeting. Following the report, Microsoft added optional "Do Not Track" support to Internet Explorer 9.
The co-chair of the privacy working group has said that compliance with W3C standards would necessitate that a browser give a user the choice whether or not to be tracked before it sends any signals to websites indicating a "Do Not Track" status. The group points out that Microsoft is not currently out of compliance, as DNT is not activated by default in current versions of Internet Explorer, but the forthcoming default status would take the browser out of compliance with W3C standards.
The controversy surrounding Microsoft's decision has thrown a spotlight onto the status of online advertising and Internet privacy. The online-ad industry has developed its own consensus on the definitions of "tracking," but the industry has yet to develop a standard with regard to how a site should respond to receiving a DNT signal from a browser. For its own targeted advertising efforts, Microsoft says it will treat a "Do Not Track" signal as an opt-out of behavioral advertising, although the company does not yet treat the signal as such.
Microsoft's decision to have DNT turned on by default has compounded this problem, as a site would have no way of knowing whether the DNT signal is simply sent because the browser enabled the feature by default or if the user truly does not want to be tracked. This uncertainty is one of the key reasons behind W3C's decision to label IE10 as non-compliant.