Microsoft announced last week that the next version of Internet Explorer will not only feature the Do-Not-Track setting, it will come with that setting turned “on” without any action by the user. Given IE’s substantial (though declining) market share, this is a big deal, and it has brought out strong opinions ranging from accusations of heresy from the ad industry to cynicism about Microsoft’s true business motivations behind the move.
Here’s my take:
- Nobody can really claim the moral high ground when it comes to choice. Either “tracking on” or “tracking off” by default represents a state that the user may not have considered. To say that Microsoft is taking away consumer choice is to assume that consumers have chosen the status quo when most of them haven’t.
- This isn’t really new. For as long as I can remember, Apple has shipped the Safari browser (including on mobile devices) with major restrictions on third-party cookie use, which is even more potent in blocking tracking than a Do-Not-Track signal. Apple also recently deprecated UDIDs, which had been used for tracking users across applications. It’s not clear why Apple making these default privacy decisions is less heretical than Microsoft doing so.
- Tolerance of more invasive tracking is shifting the balance. Self-regulatory groups and even privacy companies are welcoming more extreme tracking methods like device fingerprinting, which makes data collection invisible, immutable and far less accountable than cookie-based targeting. Don’t be surprised when these moves drive users — and browser makers that serve them — to shore up their defenses.