In a surprise move, Internet Explorer 9 adds support for the consumer-friendly HTTP header concept developed by Firefox.
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In an unexpected shift, Microsoft has said that Internet Explorer 9 will support Do Not Track. The consumer privacy feature, developed by Mozilla, transmits a header to any Web site that a user visits, indicating whether the user agrees to have their movements tracked online.
But Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for Internet Explorer, said that Do Not Track alone will not sufficiently protect consumers. Accordingly, Microsoft will still include its own feature, Tracking Protection Lists, to forcibly block tracking by unapproved sites.
"Tracking Protection is the primary technical method in IE9 to help protect users from tracking," he said in a blog post. "The final release of IE9 will also implement the broadly discussed Do Not Track User Preference (via both a DOM property and an HTTP header, as described in the W3C submission) as a secondary method."
Google, meanwhile, has advanced yet another approach: a "Keep My Opt-Outs" extension for Chrome that would alert any companies that are members of the National Advertising Initiative to not track that user.
The Federal Trade Commission has backed some form of "do not track" as a way to protect consumer privacy against increasingly automated and expansive information-gathering by advertising firms. According to a speech delivered earlier this month by David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, "the FTC has envisioned Do Not Track as a one-stop-shop where consumers can exercise a choice not to be tracked, and where marketers would have to respect their choice."
The FTC's move to directly empowering consumers began with a December 2010 report, in which it slammed advertising and media firms for failing to self-regulate. "Privacy policies have become longer, more complex, and, in too many instances, incomprehensible to consumers," said the report. "Too often, privacy policies appear designed more to limit companies' liability than to inform consumers about how their information will be used. Moreover, while many companies disclose their practices, a smaller number actually offer consumers the ability to control these practices."
Media and advertising industry reaction to any form of "do not track," however, has been less than enthusiastic. "The FTC's recent, aggressive support for browser-based solutions has definitely confused the marketplace and threatens to hinder the progress of self-regulation," said Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, in a statement released earlier this month in response to Vladeck's speech.
Instead, Liodice urged browser makers to work directly with advertising trade association. "Let's create a single, workable, universal program that delivers transparency and choice for consumers, instead of four different browser-based solutions," he said.
Hachamovitch said Microsoft favored industry self-regulation, given all of the third parties and complexity involved, though he said that any program will need to involve much more than just advertisers. "It is important to note that while tracking and advertising and profiling overlap, they are not the same," he said. "Nothing about Tracking Protection or the broadly discussed Do Not Track User Preference is specific to ads or ad content."
Where online advertising is concerned, Microsoft is also an interested party. Its Online Division generated $2.2 billion in revenues, much of it from online advertising.
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