Though it was considered a champion of privacy when it enabled Do Not Track (DNT) by default in the 2012 release of its Internet Explorer browser, it looks like Microsoft will be reversing that decision. Beginning with its next browser, currently code-named Spartan, Microsoft will have DNT disabled by default.
This news was announced by the software giant’s chief privacy officer, Brendon Lynch, in a blog post, where he blamed the company’s change of stance on “evolving” standards online and within the technology industry. While this could easily suggest that Microsoft is pandering to a stronger advertising lobby, or that people don’t care about privacy in the same way as they did a few years ago, Lynch claims that instead, disabling the feature is a more accurate reflection of web standards that are pioneered and championed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
In the latest W3C filings, the Microsoft points out that enabling a feature by default, could be considered just as much a reflection of a vendor or organization’s choice, rather than that of the individual. By leaving the choice up to them as to whether they want it enabled or not, it lets the user decide for themselves.
As the specific part of the W3C briefing states: “In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed.”
DNT was initially conceived in 2009 as a way for users to opt-out of having data about them tracked by advertisers and other parties. One of the major problems with the standard is the fact it’s not really enforceable; websites can simply elect not to honor the request. This was a contributing factor to Microsoft’s decision to drop enabling the feature by default, as Lynch stated in his blog post that “websites that receive a DNT signal from the new browsers [with DNT enabled by default] could argue that it doesn’t reflect the users’ preference, and therefore, choose not to honor it.”
While this may seem a major change of course, it’s likely to be inconsequential for privacy. Many websites don’t currently honor DNT, including Facebook and Google, so there’s limited benefit to enabling it. That will remain true until the standard’s enforcement gains teeth.