Microsoft’s announcement that its new Internet Explorer 10 web browser includes embedded “do not track” functionality has caused ripples in the online advertising ecosystem. But will it be the silver bullet that delivers cookie consent and saves us from irritating homepage pop-ups and banners? Sue Gold investigates.
When: October 2012
Law stated as at: 1 November 2012
Microsoft’s latest version of its Internet Explorer browser packaged with Windows 8 comes with an option called “do not track.” It lets users indicate whether they’d like to see ads tailored to them by companies that track their online browsing histories or instead not have their online activities tracked, analysed, recorded, and stored for marketing purposes.
The key difference is that unlike other browsers the default setting prohibits online tracking and the user has to opt in to be tracked. During installation, a notice will appear giving users the choice to keep that preselected don’t-track-me preference as is (by opting for "Express Settings") or switch it off via a "Customize" menu.
The Express Settings are designed to expedite and streamline the overall set-up process, and, if selected, generally improve a customer’s privacy, security, and overall experience on the device. Customers will receive prominent notice that their selection of Express Settings turns DNT “on.”
In addition, by using the Customize approach, users will be able to independently turn “on” and “off” a number of settings, including the setting for the DNT signal. A “Learn More” link with detailed information about each recommended setting will help customers decide whether to select Express Settings or Customize. A Privacy Statement link is also available on the screen. Windows 7 customers using IE10 will receive prominent notice that DNT is turned on in their new browser, together with a link providing more information about the setting.
Microsoft states that this approach is consistent with its goal of designing and configuring features to better protect user privacy, while also affording customers control of those features. It also underscores that the privacy of their customers is a top priority for Microsoft.
Why this matters:
According to Microsoft, in its recent research, 75 percent of the consumers surveyed in the U.S. and Europe said they wanted DNT on by default.
As many of you may recall with the implementation of the “Cookies Directive" initially it had been anticipated that the choice of browser settings to receive cookies would be sufficient and therefore in practice little would change. Following further regulatory review, including in the UK, the conclusion was reached by the ICO that where the acceptance of “cookies “ is the default, this could not be treated as the giving of consent to receive cookies . With the change in approach and the default now being “do not track “ does this therefore mean that the Microsoft solution is the magical solution we have all been waiting for and we can now dispense with banners and pop ups ?
The problem still remains that different users will still be using different browsers for the foreseeable future and therefore we cannot abandon all other forms of notification and consent. Currently other browsers such as Firefox, and Safari do allow users to choose whether or not to be tracked but they operate an “opt out “mechanism rather than opt in. In addition, the IAB initiative using an icon to denote OBA has not been recognised as complying with the “cookies “ directive as it still operates on an opt out basis rather than opt in.
Many advertisers, particularly in the US, have serious reservations and are concerned that with a default DNT this will remain the norm through customer apathy or lack of understanding rather than genuine consumer choice not to be tracked. This is supported by consumer research, which indicates that consumers tend not to change pre-set technology options.
The fear is that such inaction could lead to many ad sponsored sites shutting down and a significant drop in analytics.
Industry representatives say privacy advocates have skewed the conversation from the outset, by using Big Brother- terms like “do not track,” when they view the choice for consumers as between seeing relevant ads or generic ads. To create interest-based ads, they say, ad networks and analytics companies assign people anonymous code numbers and simply record things like the sites they visit and the search terms they enter.