The Do Not Track Proposal compiled by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in concert with Mozilla and Stanford University may have been conceived in order to offer a workable option for the millions of online users who find the prospect of websites tracking their every move long after they have clicked away as a creepy violation of personal privacy. After all, once I’m off amazon.com or facebook.com, why should Bezos or Zuckerberg know if I’m going to a news, banking or adult site? However, in technology privacy standards, nothing ever really gets implemented in the way it was originally conceived, so the current state of Do Not Track seems to have run off the Tracks with Microsoft announcing that Internet Explorer 10 will have the standard turned on by default, and the ad industry’s reply that they can just simply ignore the browser’s flag and track the user anyway.
Don’t Track Me, Pretty Please!
The Do Not Track standard is not a cookie blocker but only a flag that informs the website you’re visiting that you’d prefer if you weren’t tracked, thank you very much. It’s not so much an enforcer as a humble request and essentially takes no action from the user’s side if the website is non-compliant, or in other words continues to push its nefarious tracking on you regardless of your asking pretty please that they stop.
The IE 10 implementation Violates the Do Not Track Standard
The latest version of the standard requests that the “user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user’s explicit consent” as the consent requirement calls for a Tracking Preference signal to only be established once the user is prompted to turn it on. Microsoft’s IE 10 implementation violates this basic tenet, and without the aspect of gaining the user’s specific determination and approval to not be tracked, the ad industry claims that it does not constitute actual permission to remain untrackable. Therefore it’s not enough to download and use the IE 10 browser to stay untrackable, you have to specifically state that you want that flag to be honored.
Within 6 Days Microsoft Reversed Its Stance
The future of browsers being issued with Do Not Track irrevocably embedded within their functions took a hard hit since Microsoft’s announcement was met with such vociferous opposition from virtually all sides that within six days Redmond backed down and reversed its stance. Now IE 10 will ship without the Do Not Track turned on by default and in strict adherence to the standard will now offer the user of the browser a simple way to specifically indicate whether they want to be tracked or not.
The Stalkerization of the Masses
The question remains why anyone would actually want to be tracked. The compilation of a personal preferences profile so you can be served up ads that specifically appeal to your browsing history is a worn-out excuse with very little weight behind it. The ethereal benefits of visiting a skateboarding site and then seeing ads for Birdhouse, Darkstar, Plan B and Element incongruously plunked into your viewing of the latest Lindsay Lohan conundrum on tmz.com do not balance out the stalkerization of the masses in the opinion of many netizens. While most agree that it is a reasonable expectation that the tracking within a website to establish personal behavior and preferences can be a way to offer better customer service and an improved website experience, the tracking of your activities once you’re off that specific website is intrusive and undesirable.
Billions of dollars of advertising revenue rely on the compilation of exhaustive personal profiles to be able to present the web user with ads that are strictly targeted to their previously established preferences. There is not much point to serving up an ad for skateboards to a senior citizen shopping for a mobility scooter, so the ad industry definitely has a point here. However, it is a matter of degree as to when prior behavior is leveraged for the benefit of the consumer and when it is used to mercilessly keep tabs on their private activities.