The news that Microsoft was moving ahead with making Do Not Track the default setting for its new Internet Explorer 10 web browser was met with some suspicion amongst those in the advertising industry, with the Association of National Advertisers’ Board of Directors feeling so strongly that it released a public letter condemning the decision. It’s even more of a surprise, then, to find that the Digital Advertising Alliance is apparently wanting to stay out of the entire discussion surrounding the issue, saying that individual advertisers can essentially do as they please when it comes to handling user info.
Microsoft announced earlier this year that it was going to make Do Not Track the default setting in the next release of its IE browser, a move that was welcomed by those supporting consumer privacy rights online but strongly condemned by many in the advertising business who feel that data collected on users’ online activities is central to the success of their work (Microsoft’s announcement also flew in the face of an agreement between Microsoft and the ad industry to honor an opt-in DNT setting on browsers from February, leading to more upset from advertisers). The ANA Board of Directors’ open letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, SVP and General Counsel Bradford Smith and Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie set the tone for the initial reaction to Microsoft’s decision, complaining that “if Microsoft moves forward with this default setting, it will undercut the effectiveness of our members’ advertising and, as a result, drastically damage the online experience by reducing the Internet content and offerings that such advertising supports.” The letter went on to warn that “this result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy.”
The Digital Advertising Alliance, however, is taking a much less panic-driven tone. “Machine-driven Do Not Track does not represent user choice,” the DAA’s statement opens, “it represents browser-manufacturer choice. Allowing browser manufacturers to determine the kinds of information users receive could negatively impact the vast consumer benefits and Internet experiences delivered by DAA participants and millions of other websites that consumers value.” The statement continues, “The DAA does not require companies to honor DNT signals fixed by the browser manufacturers and set by them in browsers. Specifically, it is not a DAA Principle or in any way a requirement under the DAA Program to honor a DNT signal that is automatically set in IE10 or any other browser.” Emphasizing that last point, it repeats more clearly, “The Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association will not sanction or penalize companies or otherwise enforce with respect to DNT signals set on IE10 or other browsers.”
In other words: Do whatever you want, advertisers. Unsurprisingly, the decision is being met with criticism from privacy groups concerned at the organization’s disinterested attitude.