‘Do Not Track’ Command on Browsers: On or Off by Default?

Microsoft has announced that its new Internet Explorer 10 browser will block the tracking of users’ browsing records by advertisers. There will be a ‘do not track’ command that will be turned on by default, though users can turn it off.

According to this Outlaw.com story, the American Association of National Advertisers has complained about this. Tracking, it says, allows for advertising better targeted to users’ interests, thus more likely to be effective, thus more lucrative for the advertisers, thus providing more money to support the ‘free’ content on the Internet. Blocking tracking by default ‘takes the information out of the information economy’.

Tracking data “also supports robust consumer protections including safety mechanisms that range from fraud detection in financial services to prevention of online threats,” say the advertisers.

Privacy advocates have been objecting for some time to the ability of advertisers to follow Internet users from site to site and to collect data on where people have gone, even for commercial reasons, without users’ express consent or (probably) knowledge. Presumably Microsoft has been listening to them.

It’s pretty clear that whichever way the browser is set by default is the way that most users are going to leave it set. So the advertisers are happy enough that users have the ability to turn off tracking, knowing that most will not do so.

Who is right here?

Is there a role for the law, i.e. state intervention of some kind in this decision?

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Comments

  1. David Collier-Brown

    Blocking tracking by default ‘takes the information out of the information economy’.

    Gee, that sounds to me like exactly what I want: my personal information, my preferences and my opinions are not an economic good. If I want to offer them to others, that is my decision, not some third party’s.

    This reminds me a lot of efforts to force Canadian Libraries to divulge the reading habits of their customers. They famously and publicly object to this kind of misbehavior, and convinced their software supplier to do the same.

    When email was rather new at a local university, we sought the Canadian Library Association’s guidance about tracking our staff and student emails, and did our best to prevent anyone without a lawful court order from being able to track who was communication with who, much less eavesdrop on the communications themselves.

    Anyone who wishes to buy and sell my email, web clicks or on-line behaviour without my express permission is engaging in kind of economic espionage, specifically aimed at me as a private person.

    To say that I disapprove of it is to engage in an utterly British degree of understatement (;-))

    I strongly consider that this should be a crime on Canada, and that Microsoft is doing exactly the right thing in resisting being a party to economic espionage.

    –dave

  2. Worth reading, here. [A discussion of the standards-setting process and why US advertisers are choosing not to comply with ‘do not track’ settings.]