5 Things You Need to Know about “Do Not Track”

By Jerelle Gainey in Media Strategy on September 13th, 2012

There has been a lot of debate about the various implementations of the "Do Not Track" feature in browsers and around the DNT policy, making it somewhat difficult to understand how the features and policies affect you. That’s why Jerelle Gainey, our Media Technology Manager here at BKV has made a list of 5 things you should know about DNT to help you make sense of it all! First a little background. The term DNT, which is an acronym for “Do Not Track” is typically used to cover both DNT policy and the technology that enables compliance with DNT policy.  DNT policy can be defined as a universal set of guidelines advertisers and publishers adhere to as it pertains to the administration of tracking data.  DNT Technology commonly refers to the features in browsers that enable compliance with DNT Policy, such as sending a user’s DNT preference to an advertiser or publisher.  Most modern browsers currently support some type of DNT feature. The goal of DNT is to provide users with the tools and advertisers with a universal set of guidelines to empower users to opt out being tracked across websites for the purpose of targeted advertising. DNT is not the only method of enabling users control over tracking as many online advertisers and self-regulatory groups currently offer tools and methods for opting out of behaviorally targeting ads (for example, the Digital Advertising Alliance and the Network Advertising Initiative).  These tools, while theoretically addressing the issue, still suffer from problems that make them ineffective in practice.  One problem is  the user having to potentially opt-out of ads multiple times since each group may have different participants.  Another problem is that since these systems rely on cookies, a user who frequently deletes their cookies, would at the same time be removing the ‘no- tracking’ cookie.  With these problems ocurring a more universal system was needed, which was when the idea of the “Do Not Track” (DNT) tool emerged in 2009.  The “DNT” tool would in theory be a standards-based tool, meaning it would be implemented the same way across all browsers and interpreted the same way across all websites.  “DNT” has the potential to be one of the most consumer empowering tools on the web, but also one of the most misunderstood tools.  Below are the 5 things you should know about “DNT”. 1. The term “DNT” is commonly used to discuss both the technology enabling it and the guidelines to honor a “DNT” request. “DNT” Technology, as currently proposed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is an HTTP header that provides a site the user’s “DNT” preference for each browser transaction.  “DNT” Guidelines are the rules that govern how a website (or app) use the user’s data after acknowledging their “DNT” preference. 2. “Do Not Track” is voluntary. Some browsers, including Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft Corp's Internet Explorer and Apple Inc's Safari, allow consumers to indicate that they do not want to be tracked as they surf the Web. But under current regulations, although many websites and advertisers have agreed to comply with the requests, they can legally ignore them.  There is no explicit regulatory requirement in any country that mandates implementing support for the DNT header. 3. “Do Not Track” is a signal that browsers send. The current “DNT” proposal would require a user setting a “DNT” preference (Note:  The DNT preference is “On” by default in IE10).  When the user visits a website, their “DNT” preference is provided to the website via an HTTP header.  This is implemented by providing content in compliance with the “DNT” header preference.  Third Party Ads on the website receive the user’s “DNT” preference and also provide content in compliance with the “DNT” header preference. 4. “Do Not Track” is still in proposal stage- the actual implementation of “Do Not Track” is still evolving. As “DNT” has not yet been standardized by the W3C… the method of responding to a “DNT” header is still being debated.  To privacy advocates, it should mean refraining from all data collection (Do Not Collect). To the advertising industry however, it should mean refraining from the use of behaviorally targeted ads to target consumers, but data collection would continue for other purposes (Do Not Target).  If an agreement and standard is not arrived at soon, we may see legislation from Congress. 5. “DNT” is turned on by default in IE 10. In a move that was highly criticized by various ad groups, IE10, the default browser in Windows 8, has “DNT” turned on by default for any user who uses the “Express Settings” option during initial setup.  If a user selects the “Customize” option… they will be prompted to provide a “DNT” choice. Update as of 9/14: Google Chrome announced that they will be offering the Do Not Track option to their users. Read here for more information.