In November of 2011, the World Wide Web Consortium, an international organization that develops privacy and safety standards for the Internet, proposed a Do-Not-Track mechanism that would allow users to control their privacy settings via an easy to use Do-Not-Track header on their browsers. Through this header, which the World Wide Web Consortium named the Tracking Preference Expression, it was anticipated that users would be given more control over third party collection and use of their personal information and the monitoring of their activities on the Internet. Despite the World Wide Web Consortium’s noble intentions, the Do-Not-Track mechanism is slowly losing approval and relevance with/among browser and website companies.
What is the Do-Not-Track Mechanism?
According to the World Wide Web Consortium, the Do-Not-Track mechanism is meant to “allow users to express a preference whether or not data about them can be collected for tracking purposes. This helps to establish a new communication channel between users and services to prevent surprises and re-establish trust in the marketplace. The standard will also define mechanisms for sites to signal whether and how they honor this preference and a mechanism for allowing the user to grant site-specific exceptions . . . . ”
Do-Not-Track Mechanism Losing Traction in the Industry?
While the Do-Not-Track mechanism originally had a lot of momentum behind it (with important supporters such as Adobe, Microsoft and Facebook), in the more than two (2) years since its introduction, no enforcement measures or industry implementation standard has emerged. As a result, at least one major proponent of the Do-Not-Track mechanism has pulled its support from the program.
Last week, Yahoo! Inc. (“Yahoo!”) officials released a statement that “Do-Not-Track settings will no longer be enabled on Yahoo. As the first major tech company to implement Do-Not-Track, we’ve been at the heart of conversations surrounding how to develop the most user-friendly standard. However, we have yet to see a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry . . . .”
It should be noted that the World Wide Web Consortium Do-Not-Track mechanism is not a federal or international law or regulation, but merely an industry guideline that browsers and websites can unilaterally choose to implement . . . or not. Yahoo! has decided to take the public stance of not enforcing the Do-Not-Track mechanism and has removed the Do-Not-Track header from its browser. While problems with the Do-Not-Track mechanism have been cited as the cause of Yahoo!’s decision, industry insiders have speculated that Yahoo!’s departure from the Do-Not-Track mechanism was at least partially motivated by its renewed interest in bolstering advertising revenue.
We will have to wait to see if other browser and website companies follow Yahoo!’s lead or give the World Wide Web Consortium more time to develop concrete industry standards and enforcement measures.