Microsoft's Do Not Track default in IE10 violates new specs

Company's attempt to set Do Not Track as a default option in Internet Explorer 10 runs counter to the latest DNT draft that says a user must be given a choice.

Microsoft faces a tough time trying to pull off its goal of setting IE10's Do Not Track feature as the default.

The Do Not Track, or DNT, feature in a browser is supposed to send a signal to third-party Web sites, telling them not to track your Internet activity. Most browsers include this as an option that the user can turn on or off.

Microsoft wants to turn the feature on by default in Internet Explorer 10, seeing it as a necessary step in giving users more control over how their online activities are tracked, shared, and used. But the latest proposed update to the DNT specification as published by Wired doesn't see it that way.

The update specifically says that "an ordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user's explicit consent." The term "user agent" actually refers to the software itself. So, the browser can't make the DNT choice for the user, rather the user must make the decision.

As an example, the spec further states that "on first run, the user agent prompts the user to configure the Tracking Preference signal," meaning users must receive a message asking how they want DNT set.

This latest update is considered a "preliminary position," so it hasn't yet been fully discussed with the necessary stakeholders, yet alone approved.

Recent comments from Aleecia McDonald, a co-chair of the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group responsible for the specifications, pointed out that the group is far from a final recommendation at this pont.

"It will be quite a while before we have a final recommendation with which to comply or not," McDonald. "As I posted before, until there is a final recommendation, there is no way for a user agent (or anyone else) to be complying or not complying: there simply is no published recommendation yet."

Whatever the W3C decides, Microsoft still feels its DNT default switch is the right way to go. Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch issued the following statement sent to CNET:

"We are engaged with the W3C, as we are with many international standards bodies. While we respect the W3C's perspective, we believe that a standard should support a privacy by default choice for consumers."

But assuming the preliminary position is approved and Microsoft doesn't play ball, it could leave advertisers free to ignore the DNT setting in Internet Explorer altogether, defeating the whole purpose of the feature.

Microsoft has already managed to upset advertisers with its desire to turn on DNT by default. Many have cried foul, saying the move runs counter to an agreement established earlier this year with the White House.

Still, in the face of opposition by advertisers and a potential conflict with the DNT specification itself, this is shaping up to be a battle that Microsoft may have a hard time winning.

Updated at 4:30 a.m. PT June 8 with response from Microsoft and comments from WC3.

 

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