The ability to tell sites not to track you exists, but may not be honored.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about anonymous browsing so that sites cannot track who you are and what you are doing. More specifically for our purposes, this is the ability to keep track of things you view for the purposes of serving up ads to people. This is labeled as Do Not Track. And that is the big discussion which is going on right now. The ability to set an option to tell sites to not track what you are doing sounds like a great idea and one just about everyone would support. But it is not without controversy. Here is a simple definition from DoNotTrack.us
Do Not Track is a technology and policy proposal that enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms. At present few of these third parties offer a reliable tracking opt out, and tools for blocking them are neither user-friendly nor comprehensive. Much like the popular Do Not Call registry, Do Not Track provides users with a single, simple, persistent choice to opt out of third-party web tracking.
With that definition, it seems reasonable to provide options for users to not have their activities tracked as they browse the web. But of course, nothing is ever that simple. If it were, the current proposals going around for Do Not Track would have been accepted and adopted. At the moment, everything is on the honor system. The W3C is the body which has the responsibility of setting standards on the web which everyone is supposed to adhere to.
Given where things are headed, you would think that browser makers would have completed the process of adding the Do Not Track ability to their browsers. Most have, except for Google. They are providing an add in for their Chrome browser which requires you to add the extension to Chrome as shown above in order to have the ability. And Microsoft has recently decided to include the opt out options by default for their IE 10 browser. At the moment, there is no requirement for sites to honor the Do Not Track setting, so it can be ignored. We are not sure whether Microsoft is trying to set a standard or just attract attention.
Even the White House has jumped into the discussion wanting to see Do Not Track enacted. They want to see web sites add the do not track to their site instead of at the browser level. And that does cloud the situation from what it is currently being worked on by various groups. Doing it at the browser level is a much simpler method for achieving the desired goals than on a site by site basis. At the moment, there is no teeth to enforce sites to follow any of the Do Not Track proposals.
While the US Government can attempt to put regulations to enforce Do Not Track, all a company has to do is move outside the US and there they can continue to track and serve up ads related to the persons browsing history. You might wonder why they would do that. The primary reason is money. Advertising is a great source of revenue and if advertisers can put up ads that are specific to a persons browsing history, they are more likely to get that person to click on the ad. And that means money to the advertiser. And it means money to the site which is displaying the ads.
So much of this is about money and with that is controversy which is going to be tough to get resolved. Do Not Track is going to be in the news for the next year as proposals and regulations to put it into place move forward. Do Not Track has benefits and negatives which probably will not be able to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
What are your feelings about Do Not Track?