Baking Privacy and User Choice into the Web with Do Not Track
Today the EFF announced the adoption of its Do Not Track (DNT) policy by the adtech company Adzerk, they are the first advertising company to sign up to a meaningful DNT policy and their involvement will have two immediate consequences.
1. Companies have claimed that the technical obstacles to implementing DNT in the ad environment are insurmountable; they no longer have this alibi. On a more positive note, there is also reason to believe that other ad companies will emulate Adzerk’s example.
2. It puts in place another piece of scaffolding for those publishers considering DNT adoption but unsure how it can be implemented. Offering a version of the site where users are not tracked means reviewing all the third parties used on the site, many of which gather user data: analytics, embedded video hosts, social network ‘like’ buttons, and of course *ads*. These sources of data leaks to third parties need to be disarmed rather than gotten rid of entirely (something users’ expectations will not allow). Adzerk doesn’t supply ads themselves, but it provides the infrastructure for their delivery. As more publishers adopt DNT, it will become easier to convince advertisers that this is an audience worth addressing.
Whilst a lot of attention has been given to online tracking the responses have so far been ineffective. The relevant W3C working group failed to reach a compromise that would change industry practice voluntarily, whilst regulators appear unwilling to take on a sector which has grown during an otherwise lackluster economic period. Where legislation has been tried, the results have been ineffective (e.g. the ‘Cookie Directive’ in Europe). The EFF’s DNT effort aims to construct an alternative ecology where privacy protection and informed user choice is the design imperative behind modified services, and to overcome the engineering obstacles to that objective a step at a time.
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