To Track or Not to Track? Not Just a Question, a Choice for Consumers and Industry

As part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen privacy for consumers, Microsoft recently announced that the next version of Internet Explorer (IE 10) will include the Do-Not-Track (DNT) feature turned “on” by default.

There has been a lot of public debate about tracking users’ activities on the Internet, including for the purposes of targeted advertising. Although there definitely are important benefits from targeted ads, many people are not comfortable receiving them. For example, results of a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project show 68 percent of respondents were “Not OK” with targeted advertising because they don’t like having their online behavior tracked and analyzed.

This sentiment, coupled with our commitment to privacy by design, led us to think deeply about how users can exercise their DNT choice in IE10. Providing a choice regarding DNT means having a setting users can control. When a setting is created, however, the software provider needs to decide on the initial default (i.e., the state of the setting when the product is first launched). We ultimately concluded that the appropriate privacy-friendly default for DNT in IE10 is “on.”

We appreciate that this decision clearly surprised some people. Indeed, earlier this week, press reports circulated that the W3C, a well-regarded Internet standards group of which Microsoft is a long-standing member, “rejected” the notion that a DNT signal on by default would comply with its draft standard. Having received inquiries about this, we felt the need to set the record straight.

Broadly speaking, technology standards are an important way for various products and services to work together. International standards bodies, like the W3C, play a significant role in the development of the products and services that we all enjoy. To be clear: Microsoft has great respect for W3C’s contributions to the development of meaningful Web standards. A portion of this week’s W3C Tracking Protection Working Group conference call was referred to as a final “decision” of the W3C; this, however, is inaccurate. There is no final decision yet.

More precisely, the specification has not been completed by the Working Group, and there is no official DNT standard today. We believe the W3C working group should continue to develop this standard. Advertising, industry, privacy and technical experts involved in the W3C working group, all of whom have been working on a standard for DNT, expect to continue this important dialogue in the months ahead. As discussions continue, Microsoft remains firmly committed to defining bona fide technical specifications and policies to govern DNT. Indeed, we will be hosting the next meeting of the W3C working group later this month. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with this group and other industry bodies and influentials integral to privacy globally.

In short, we agree with those who say this is all about user choice. However, we respectfully disagree with those who argue that the default setting for DNT should favor tracking as opposed to privacy.

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