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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.

Conspiracy theory?

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.

Patricio Robles

Published 29 October, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2393 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Richard Beaumont

This is an outrageous move by Yahoo - it is their actions not Microsoft's that are damaging not just DNT, but consumer trust in general.

Microsoft turned on DNT by default in response to consumer demand. As this speech transcript clearly explains: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/download/legal/10-23puttingpeoplefirst.pdf

They are choosing to put consumer interests above that of major businesses, putting power back in the hands of consumers - and I think they should be applauded for it.

What Yahoo should have done is say - OK, now we need to convince people to allow us to track their activity, by demonstrating the added value it brings to them.

Instead they are hiding behind one interpretation of a draft standard, and ignoring the wishes of people who might be actively choosing to have DNT enabled in their IE10 browser. How do they propose to tell the difference?

almost 4 years ago

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Anonymous

How about by allowing those who "actively choose to have DNT enabled" to switch it on easily, rather than by applying a one-size-fits-all-but-only-if-you-use-IE10 strategy? You've hit the nail on the head, it's a "draft" standard. I don't want DNT, I would rather have ads that are tailored to me and my buying and browsing habits, than completely irrelevant stuff that will inevitably fill that void. IE is losing market share daily and this is a desperate attempt to appeal to the scare-mongered privacy patrol without explaining fully the pros and cons of this half-hearted attempt.

almost 4 years ago

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Mike O'Neill, CTO at Baycloud Systems Limitred

The majority of users want default DNT, a greater majority want the choice. If Yahoo decides to ignore that then the market will ensure that their cookies will be blocked. Remember Microsoft has already got per site blocking in Tracking Protection Lists, and other browsers will need to compete.
Many other comapnies agreed to support DNT at the White House when President Obama announced his Consumer Rights Bill, including Google. Twitter has also recently said they will honour it. Yahoo may find themselves out on a limb.

almost 4 years ago

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