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Jun
19
2012

To Track, or Not to Track: The Great DNT Debate Continues

Chris Babel
CEO | TRUSTe

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There has been considerable open debate regarding Microsoft’s May 31st announcement to ship Internet Explorer 10 with Do Not Track (DNT) on by default.  The response has ranged from praise from privacy advocates, to outrage by industry associations, to questions of compliance from the W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group.  The developments over the past two weeks have set the stage for what promises to be a spirited discussion with all of the key players in the DNT debate at the next W3C working group meeting scheduled for June 20-22 in Bellevue, WA.

We believe individuals, when properly informed and equipped, should make their own decisions that affect their privacy online.  Unlike security, where things like encryption are universally better for a consumer and therefore should be pre-configured on their behalf, privacy is highly contextual and individual – what might shock one person’s privacy standards could be perfectly acceptable and even desirable for another person.

However, we do not believe today’s consumers are adequately informed or equipped to properly make decisions that affect their privacy.  This view was reinforced by the 2011 privacy study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of TRUSTe where only 1 in 3 consumers indicated they both knew how to protect their privacy online and took steps to do so.  This reinforces the need to make privacy controls available and easy to use as well as provide education to make consumers aware of the tools.

The Internet is in the midst of an ongoing journey to equip consumers with the appropriate tools and education to ensure they can make informed choices about managing their privacy online.  While overall industry investment in consumer tools and education have not kept pace with advances in online tracking practices over the past decade, several new programs have rolled out in the past 18 months are starting to address this gap, including the DAA AdChoices self-regulatory program and the recent introduction of consent management solutions to address the EU Cookie Directive.  Both of these programs provide consumers with tools and often include educational resources to help them manage their privacy choices, but will need to evolve and improve to have the desired outcome.

A DNT feature in a browser would provide another useful tool to further equip consumers to manage their privacy choices. However, the DNT control should only operate via a user selected setting to ensure the DNT selection directly reflects the consumer’s preference and provides a basis to hold industry accountable for honoring that preference.

There are multiple stakeholders involved in developing a DNT solution and the W3C has been leading a cross-industry working group toward an agreed upon standard that balances all sides of the internet ecosystem.  Deployment of the final recommendation will require considerable technical and operational investments by all key players in the ecosystem, as well as a commitment to communicate the changes, provide consumer education, and continuously test and improve the control mechanism. TRUSTe has been and will continue to actively support the working group toward this important goal, and is committed to providing our technology, privacy, and consumer expertise to help with the design, rollout, and self-regulation required to make this important initiative successful.

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