New 'Do Not Track' Law of the Land to Kill Microsoft IE10 Golden Goose?

By Tony Rizzo October 10, 2012

It is entirely possible that Internet Explorer 10 is not really a golden goose of any sort - at least not any longer. Still, there is certainly some level of prestige attached to owning the world’s most popular browser, if Microsoft has anything to say about it. IE is often maligned – occasionally with justification but more often than not with no justification what so ever.

Much has been made over the last 18 months or so of Microsoft’s “Do Not Track” (DNT) capability. What it is, at its core, is a signal Microsoft sends to advertisers (including Google and its cookie-tracking based ad components) telling them that any given user of IE has chosen not to be tracked. Whether or not a user is or isn’t tracked by an advertiser (or by whoever placed the tracking cookies in the first place) isn’t guaranteed. As originally implemented – and as it is still implemented – the entire thing revolves around an honor system of sorts on the side of the tracker to honor (or not honor) the request not to be tracked.

Image via Shutterstock

There is no functionality inside of any browser on the market – whether Google Chrome, Mozilla, Apple Safari, or any version of IE – that explicitly blocks advertisers from installing tracking cookies and tracking any user, regardless of the user’s desire to be or not be tracked. Advertisers have not been happy about the entire DNT thing – understandably if you happen to be an advertiser or Google (or a vendor that wants to track usage of a program’s features or any other thing that may actually be passive in nature).

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gotten involved in the entire DNT discussion, and has come down on the side of desiring all browsers to have a DNT capability. Recently Google finally came around to agreeing to provide the feature in Chrome – but it did so for a particular reason we’ll come back to in a minute.

Vendors and advertisers have been haggling about the entire thing and DNT eventually found its way to a “group” that has since taken it upon itself to write a specific DNT rule that the entire browser/advertising population might be able to agree to. In fact, the rule now exists and can be downloaded as a PDF. We will warn any intrepid readers that the rule (the PDF dates to June 2012) isn’t a particularly fun thing to read, and it goes on for 14 pages.

There is no need to really read it though – here is the only piece of it that matters to the world at large (we’re paraphrasing, not quoting):

·         Do Not Track will be included in all browsers, and if the feature is turned on and sends a DNT signal, then all concerned parties on the side of installing tracking cookies will honor the request made by the user not to be tracked. All browsers must allow a user to be able to set DNT – but it must be an “opt-in” feature. A user must explicitly set the DNT preference in order for the user’s browser to send the DNT signal.

That is pretty straight forward. The reason Google finally decided to go along with DNT is that the rule explicitly states that DNT will be turned off as the default preference. A user must explicitly opt in to DNT by manually turning the DNT preference on. Google and most advertisers can live with this option. The odds remain in their favor that users simply won’t turn it on and ultimately a very high percentage of tracking cookies will continue to do what they’ve always done.

So Then There is Microsoft an IE10

Before the DNT rule was more or less finalized and noted for adoption by all concerned parties, which includes acceptance by the FTC, Microsoft – which was responsible for the entire DNT capability in the first place – decided to take a bold stand and issued a decision that IE10 would be shipped with the DNT preference turned on, so that all IE10 users would initially be “protected” without the need to have to explicitly opt in to DNT.

Microsoft, whether truly honorably or not (it may simply have been looking to beat up on Google, which at the time had said that DNT would not become part of Chrome), claimed that it was merely working to become the safest possible browser on the planet for protecting user privacy. Ah so…

Then the new rule burst on the scene, which has been agreed to by all parties – except Microsoft – that users must explicitly opt in to DNT. As IE10 is getting ready to head out the door, any and all parties – and we mean all parties, many of which Microsoft significantly angered with DNT in the first place – have categorically stated that a) Microsoft is now completely non-compliant with the DNT rule b) as such, every advertiser, marketer and vendor that utilized tracking cookies will ignore any and all such requests coming from any user of IE10.

They can do this simply because there is now no legitimate way for anyone to know if a user has explicitly opted in to DNT!

So IE10 immediately goes from being what Microsoft had initially planned to be the browser that was the most secure in guarding privacy to literally becoming the only browser that now offers a complete lack of DNT/tracking cookie privacy.

That is quite a turn of events – talk about unintended consequences at multiple levels!

Apparently there may be no direct, immediate and easy fix to IE10 to solve the issue. We’ll be keeping an eye on Microsoft to see how the scenario continues to unfold. Perhaps the FTC will step in and offer some sort of up front compromise that puts all browsers back on equal footing – this certainly defeats Microsoft’s original desire to be able to claim for itself the title of “most secure guardian of privacy” though it would also solve the ignominy of being labeled the “world’s least secure guardian of privacy.”

Stay tuned as the next several weeks run their course before the launch of Windows 8 and IE10 come to pass.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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