EFF Launches New Do Not Track Standard With Coalition Of Web Companies
New standard works in tandem with privacy software with the aim of preventing sites from tracking users' internet activity.
In reaction to the digital advertising industry’s inability to come to a consensus on how to or whether to adhere to users’ “Do Not Track” browser preferences, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), privacy firm Disconnect and a group of internet companies have announced a new Do Not Track (DNT) setting to offer stronger protections.
The new DNT standard doesn’t block ads itself; it works with ad-blocking and privacy technologies. The aim is to better protect users from sites that try to secretly trace and collect their internet activity for ad targeting purposes, the EFF announced.
“The failure of the ad industry and privacy groups to reach a compromise on DNT has led to a viral surge in ad blocking, massive losses for Internet companies dependent on ad revenue, and increasingly malicious methods of tracking users and surfacing advertisements online,” said Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim. “Our hope is that this new DNT approach will protect a consumer’s right to privacy and incentivize advertisers to respect user choice, paving a path that allows privacy and advertising to coexist.”
Medium, Mixpanel, AdBlock and DuckDuckGo are among the partner companies involved in the launch.
“We are greatly pleased that so many important Web services are committed to this powerful new implementation of Do Not Track, giving their users a clear opt-out from stealthy online tracking and the exploitation of their reading history,” said EFF Chief Computer Scientist Peter Eckersley. “These companies understand that clear and fair practices around analytics and advertising are essential not only for privacy but for the future of online commerce.”
DNT is a preference available on Web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome that is supposed to notify websites that the user does not want their online activity tracked. However, often ad networks and other third parties ignore the signal, and user data is passed on to ad exchanges, data brokers and tracking companies.
The online ad giants have also ducked out, saying DNT is too confusing for consumers to understand. Facebook and Google have said they ignore DNT requests out of a belief that consumers don’t understand the implications and would prefer the relevant ad targeting that comes from tracking. Yahoo opted not to respond to DNT signals beginning in May 2014, claiming it had not seen “a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry.” In April of this year, Microsoft declared that future versions of its browsers would not, by default, opt-in users to DNT.
The EFF consortium’s new DNT policy is still voluntary: “We believe it would be a false and misleading trade practice [for domains] to post the policy without the intent to comply in good faith. However, EFF is not in a position to enforce this promise or monitor compliance.”
Instead, the EFF policy is “a document intended to give users strong privacy protections, which means that in the current Web environment only some companies are going to be willing and able to post it.”
The full policy is available here.