Earlier this year, Microsoft created headlines when word broke that the Redmond software giant would enable Do Not Track (DNT) by default in the newest version of its browser, IE10. Although these claims were initially questioned, Microsoft clarified that, in an effort to "balance ease of use with choice and control," it would indeed enable DNT as part of its default settings during Windows 8 setup and IE upgrades.
That set the stage for battle and it didn't take long for the ad industry to respond to Microsoft's approach with harsh criticism.
Now, the battle between Microsoft and those who oppose its DNT implementation has taken a new twist.
Yahoo fights back
On Friday, Yahoo announced that it will not respect the DNT setting from IE10. On its policy blog, the company explained:
Yahoo! has been working with our partners in the Internet industry to come up with a standard that allows users to opt out of certain website analytics and ad targeting. In principle, we support "Do Not Track" (DNT).
Unfortunately, because discussions have not yet resulted in a final standard for how to implement DNT, the current DNT signal can easily be abused. Recently, Microsoft unilaterally decided to turn on DNT in Internet Explorer 10 by default, rather than at users’ direction.
In our view, this degrades the experience for the majority of users and makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition to them. It basically means that the DNT signal from IE10 doesn’t express user intent.
Because Yahoo believes that "DNT must map to user intent," the company "will not recognize IE10’s default DNT signal on Yahoo! properties at this time."
Highlighting DNT's fundamental flaw
DNT was, of course, never going to be a perfect solution for those hoping to provide a means for consumers to exercise greater control over their online footprints. Yahoo's decision not to recognize the IE10 DNT settings highlights what is perhaps DNT's fundamental flaw: it doesn't have to be respected, and consumers won't necessarily know when it isn't being respected. Here, Yahoo is telling the world that it's not going to respect the setting, but others almost certainly won't.
And therein lies the rub: if one of the biggest players on the consumer internet is already ignoring a DNT implementation it doesn't agree with, DNT, as we know it, is effectively dead on arrival.
Yahoo's move is a bold one, but it's not necessarily an unanticipated one. Microsoft had to have known that its DNT implementation was bound to face backlash, and it saw criticism almost immediately. Which begs the question: in effectively enabling DNT by default, was Microsoft simply being naive, or does it have an ulterior motive? Time will tell, but it's worth considering that while Microsoft is no stranger to making mistakes, its DNT strategy seems a bit too deliberate to be written off as a flub.