Do not track (really, just don’t)

So you may have noticed that Microsoft recently announced that we’re turning on Do Not Track by default in IE10. It means that, unless users turn tracking on in the preferences, sites will be sent a clear signal that a user wants their web behaviour to remain private. Surprisingly, to my mind anyway, we’ve caught quite a bit of flack for it.

There have been various criticisms of our position – in fact I got into a bit of a Twitter argument about it.

The opposing view goes something like this: the internet needs advertising money to thrive. To get the investment and commercial backing it requires, companies should be allow to track people’s movements across the web so that they can have the opportunity to sell to them. The argument is sometimes taken further to say that because they have been tracked and analysed, people will receive more targeted, less annoying advertising as a result. Therefore, Do Not Track should be turned off by default.

Many think that by making Do Not Track default it undermines it’s effectiveness, advertisers will simply ignore it because the user hasn’t opted in to not be tracked.

Personally, I think this is rubbish.

Most people simply do not understand how much information is being gathered about them as they skip from site to site. Bear in mind, this is mainly information they are not offering voluntarily. It’s more often than not simply scraped from their observable behaviour, the clickstream they leave behind. When they are made aware of this, they typically vote against it in surveys (such as the 79% who said no when asked by ZDNet last week).

There’s a poster in the office I work in that outlines the principals behind developing for Metro. It reads: Put people first. I don’t know about you but to me this is a pretty good mantra for any kind of development. And I find it odd that those on the other side of the argument should take a different view – put advertisers first.

At the end of the day, as much as anything, it’s the secrecy aspect of not telling people they are being tracked that really bothers me. As I’ve posted before, if you’re not ok telling people what you’re doing with their data then, chances are, you’ve crossed the line. And once you lose the trust of the people you develop for, you really are in trouble.

Some additional reading:

Do Not Track debate reveals cracks in online privacy consensus by Ed Bott

Do Not Track: The pros and cons of being followed

Parting thoughts on the Great Debate – Do Not Track (Christopher Dawson’s summary of the opposing view).

Comments (2)

  1. Mary Branscombe says:

    It was interesting to me to see how closely the FTC is aligning with the advertiser viewpoint; they told me the EU approach to privacy was tantamount to speedbumps to innovation on the information superhighway (such a current phrase, that). More at…/privacy-dnt-microsoft-the-ftc-and-silicon-valley-10026371

  2. Keith says:

    It's effectiveness?

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