Why Microsoft's DNT Decision is Dangerous
Last week, Microsoft announced it would make Do Not Track (DNT) functionality the default setting in version 10 of its Internet Explorer (IE) browser. The move has inspired myriad responses. The White House praised the move; Digiday wondered whether Microsoft was going after Google; the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), meanwhile, raised some very valid concerns.
Meanwhile, leading members of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) "tracking protection" working group — including Google, Yahoo!, and Adobe — are trying to find a path forward. A compromise proposal put forth by the W3C working group states that “an ordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user’s explicit consent.”
If this language goes into effect and Microsoft doesn't change its stance, IE 10 would be in violation for defaulting to a tracking preference and Microsoft could face legal repercussions. Google, Yahoo!, and Adobe also argued that if Microsoft ignores the W3C directives, websites and networks would have every right to ignore IE's tracking preferences, however the working group hasn't yet come to an agreement on this point.
Ultimately, Microsoft's move can't be contemplated in a vacuum. To really appreciate the switch to default DNT, you have to consider its impact on the entire Internet ecosystem. Consumers derive an immense amount of free entertainment and education from the Web -- be it via social media, video, long-form journalism, or anything in between -- and sites rely on relevant advertising to pay salaries and produce quality content.
The challenge has always been to optimize advertising while providing consumers with appropriate transparency and clear choices. The DAA has met that challenge head on over the past 3.5 years by spearheading a self-regulatory process, a process that Microsoft has been a major, active participant in.
The DAA's aggressive self-regulation efforts include a collaboration between businesses, consumers, and policy makers to develop a program that governs and promotes the responsible collection and use of Web viewing data. The program strives to satisfy consumers' privacy expectations while allowing the online services people love to develop sustainable business models. Central to the program is the prominent AdChoice campaign, which educates consumers on how Web viewing data is used and provides a simple way to opt out.
In February, the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, the Secretary of Commerce and members of the White House publicly praised the DAA’s cross-industry initiative, and the DAA -- including Microsoft -- agreed to a program that would keep consumers protected and keep the Internet's services and businesses healthy.
Microsoft's decision is inconsistent with that agreement and has the potential to disrupt the services and businesses that millions of us rely on for entertainment, education, and employment. It's a dangerous move that needs to be reconsidered.