When Microsoft’s Windows 8 arrives to a computer near you it will have Internet Explorer 10 in tow, and with that browser will come a “Do Not Track” feature that will automatically be turned on. The privacy tool, which was backed by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year, enables internet users to indicate to websites that they don’t wish to have their browsing habits tracked. Mozilla’s Firefox browser and Yahoo have been early endorsers of the feature, and Twitter recently welcomed the feature as well.
The anti-tracking repellent might be welcome news to privacy advocates, but it’s more than likely to stick in the craw of one certain online company that relies on its capability to track users: Google. The search engine colossus’ bread and butter is personal information culled from internet users’ browsing habits. The cookies that Google uses on its sites and stores in browsers allow it to target people with personalized ads based on what the person’s browsing history is like. The Do Not Track feature, however, would block Google’s cookies and effectively diminish the quality of the company’s advertising strategy.
The issue is larger than a Microsoft v. Google showdown, but the split between the two companies does summarize the debate about how the ‘Do Not Track’ feature should best be implemented. Brendon Lynch, Microsoft’s Chief Privacy Officer, explained the rationale behind equipping IE10 with ‘Do Not Track’ by default in an announcement yesterday, stating that Microsoft’s first interest is its customers’ privacy. While he doesn’t outright disdain the tracking of personal information by websites for the purpose of personalized ads, Lynch frames the argument for ‘Do Not Track’ as a way to give people the right to decide for themselves.
We believe that consumers should have more control over how information about their online behavior is tracked, shared and used. Online advertising is an important part of the economy supporting publishers and content owners and helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to go to market. There is also value for consumers in personalized experiences and receiving advertising that is relevant to them.
Google has publicly welcomed the ‘Do Not Track’ feature but the company was reluctant to accept the terms of the feature. This is unsurprising, really, considering a major impetus for ‘Do Not Track’ was Google’s relentless pursuit of user information in spite of browser security settings that clearly indicated that people didn’t want to be tracked.
While Microsoft might have won some favor among privacy advocates, Google and the legion of advertisers who have grown accustomed to having their ads targeted to consumers in a personalized manner might not be so easy to accept IE10’s default ‘Do Not Track’ feature. But then again, if Google and advertisers believe it’s their manifest destiny to hound internet users and leech away their personal information and really want to quibble about consumers’ desire to opt out of their services, Microsoft’s decision to make ‘Do Not Track’ as a default function will only gain legitimacy.