The Do Not Track (DNT) initiative has consistently been losing supporters -- Yahoo is the latest company to jump off the bandwagon. For more than two years Yahoo had agreed to protect user privacy if users had enabled DNT, but now the company announced that it will ignore those privacy requests.
All of the major Web browsers include the Do Not Track feature, but companies that rely on advertising have been hesitant about supporting it. As a result, larger tech companies like Google and Facebook have never paid attention to DNT settings. Now, Yahoo said DNT will not be enabled on its Web services because it would rather have users personalize their own privacy settings.
A Broad Request
DNT was implemented so that users who do not want their information to be recorded for advertising purposes can let Web sites know their preferences. With the feature enabled in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and other browsers, Web sites are notified that their visitors would prefer to not be tracked. However, even though the sites receives those notifications, they have no legal or technical requirements to respect them.
Arguments against DNT are not always aimed at its goal but rather the lack of privacy that it actually provides. Unless people are visiting just a handful of Web sites, they will always run into services that don't pay attention to the DNT header. Plus, with major ad networks not supporting it, users would be hard-pressed to find Web sites that only use pro-DNT ad services.
In a post on its policy blog, Yahoo explained why it felt that enabling Do Not Track across its platform no longer made sense. The primary complaint is that DNT is too broad. Rather than giving users a set of privacy options that can be personalized, DNT is just one setting that can either be enabled or disabled. In order to remain consistent, Yahoo does allow people to protect their privacy by manually disabling interest-based ads.
The problem with any initiative like DNT -- even if the idea behind it is good -- is that profit-based companies must chose to respect the setting. If a company like Google were to support the initiative and chose not to collect advertising data from people who had the setting enabled, it could lose millions of dollars.
During the RSA conference in 2013, Google tried to explain why it would not acknowledge Do Not Track requests from a browser setting or plugin. Keith Enright, a senior policy counsel at Google, said that because there is no industry-wide standard for DNT, users are not always sure what their requests mean.
Google's view on the situation is similar to the views of Facebook, Yahoo and others -- only 21 of the major tech companies have committed to DNT.