The award for least-surprising headline of the week goes to MediaPost, which reported on June 19 that “Ad industry urges web standards group to abandon do-not-track effort.”
The ad industry is certainly being proactive here; so far, the do-not-track effort looks to be kind of a bust.
As its name suggests, the “Do not track” project seeks to give users the option to go online without having every website they visit “tracked.” So far, only a handful of companies have agreed to offer and honor Do Not Track options to their visitors, and only two of them — Pinterest and Twitter — are companies recognizable to and patronized by ordinary people (as opposed to IT or advertising professionals).
Indeed, most companies go out of their way to not offer it. At the end of April, for example, Yahoo updated its privacy policies to say that henceforth, “web browser Do Not Track settings will no longer be enabled on Yahoo.”
Not that Yahoo is unique; Google Chrome's page about “Do Not Track” (last updated in 2012) says “At this time, most web services, including Google's, do not alter their behavior or change their services upon receiving Do Not Track requests.”
Despite this, as MediaPost reported:
The ad trade group Digital Advertising Alliance is urging the World Wide Web Consortium to pull the plug on its tracking-protection initiative, which aims to implement the do-not-track requests that users can send through their browsers.
“By wading into this public-policy matter, the W3C not only duplicates efforts undertaken by legitimate policymakers but also strays far beyond its expertise and mission,” DAA executive director Lou Mastria wrote to the W3C on Wednesday. He added that the DAA wants the Internet standards organization “to abandon this effort and to return to its mission of developing consensus around specifications for web technologies.”
Apparently, the ad industry is also worried that some web users might be tricked into inadvertently being not-tracked when they actually want to be tracked, or something:
Microsoft, for one, now turns on the do-not-track signal automatically for some Internet Explorer users.
The ad industry says that do-not-track signals set by default don't reflect a user's preference to avoid tracking across Web sites. But the industry also says there's no good way to distinguish between a signal set by a user and one set by a developer.
“There’s no mechanism for anyone in the digital media ecosystem to trust any DNT signal they receive,” industry consultant Alan Chapell said in a post to the [W3] group. “As a result, the entire framework is open to question. In any other group, this issue would result in a full stop until the questions are addressed.”
So, Reader: if you're afraid that Microsoft or some other nefarious entity is secretly not-tracking you when you really wish they would, take courage from knowing that ad trade groups like the Digital Advertising Alliance have your back.